A total of 63 elephants mostly from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are in the custody of temples and private individuals in Tamil Nadu.
According to an affidavit filed by Forest Department at Madras High Court, a total of 127 elephants are in captivity in Tamil Nadu and 31 of them are maintained in temples, 32 by private individuals and 64 in special camps run by the department.
The department told the court that individuals residing in Assam and Kerala were holding the licences for many elephants that were being maintained in various temples in Tamil Nadu.
Forest officials said one Lila Bora was holding the licence for 15-year-old female elephant Prerona maintained at Tirupparankundram Subramania Swamy Temple in Madurai.
Similarly, Pradip Doley, also from Assam, was holding the licence for 14-year-old female elephant Joon alias Sundaravalli maintained at Kallazhagar temple in Madurai and Chidananda Hazarika was the licencee of 18-year-old elephant Moni alias Akila at Jambukeshwarar Akilandeswari Temple at Tiruvanaikaval in Tiruchi.
According to forest department, the licence for 18-year-old female elephant Joymala alias Jayamalyatha of Srivilliputtur Andal Temple in Virudhunagar was held by Assam’s Girin Moran and that Tuleswar Moran was the licence holder of 14-year-old female elephant Bhagyawati alias Abirami of the Amirthadadeshwarar Swamy Devasthanam at Tirukadaiyur.
Government counsel C. Harsha Raj informed the court that the department had begun cataloguing all personal details, including the ancestry, of every individual elephant in captivity in the State as per orders passed by the court early this month and that the department would require one more month to complete the process and submit the details.
However, Prakash Sasha, co-founder of New Delhi-based animal protection organisation Elsa Foundation, said the state forest department, in its report submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in January 2019 had claimed that 86 elephants were in the custody of temples and private individuals.
However, now, it had been reported that only 63 elephants were in the temple and private custody.
He said the forest department must explain the discrepancy in numbers and how a huge number of 23 elephants could go off the radar since 2019.
After recording his submission, the judges directed the forest department to submit by October 21 the statements furnished by it to the Union Ministry in the last five years with regard to the number of elephants in captivity in the State and other materials connected to elephants.
The interim orders were passed on a public interest litigation petition filed by activist Rangarajan Narasimhan who insisted upon taking good care of the elephants in the custody of temples.