Guwahati:  Janumani, a female elephant from Assam, who was taken to Goa around two decades back and was in captivity since then, has been released at an elephant care facility in Karnataka.

Janumani was set free on August 11 following an order issued by Bombay High Court at Goa

A team of Goa forest department officials, led by Santosh Kumar, the state’s chief wildlife warden released the female elephant in a secluded elephant pasture, adjacent to a forest of Karnataka State Forest Department’s Elephant Care Facility (ECF).

The High Court ordered the Goa forest department to ensure the animal reached its destination – the Karnataka State Forest Department’s Elephant Care Facility (ECF) – in the shortest possible measure of time. 

 Janumani had been taken out from her original habitat in Assam, several decades ago, and was now, in a sense, returning to something similar, for the balance of her natural life.

And for the first time, caretakers who were responsible for the elephant’s well-being were now in-charge of the mammal.

She was captured from Assam’s forest and she ended up first at the infamous Sonepur animal fair in Bihar, Herald reported.

From there, she was transported to Goa in 2005, all of 21 years. Janumani survived 17 years in Goa, mostly tied to a tree under a tarpaulin sheet for a roof, just outside the spice farm where she became an amusement for tourists, according to the news website.

Occasionally, he was sent for temple rituals to Karnataka and Maharashtra, or the Ayyappa temple at Vasco.

She was also rented out for destination beach weddings. Elephants do not belong to Goa’s forest habitat. Goa has no wild elephant population and, almost uniquely in India, no cultural history of elephant captivity.

But the events which led to Janumani’s confiscation and rescue from a life of daily abuse, bonded labour and captivity, are spread over a long five-year-long legal battle waged before the Bombay High Court at Goa by People for Animals, Goa’s non-profit, animal welfare, organization. 

In 2018, the first PIL on captive elephants was filed in the High Court of Bombay at Goa by an animal rights activist, drawing to the attention of the court that there were a total of 12 elephants held in illegal captivity in Goa at three spice farms located in Ponda taluka and that they were being used for commercial activity without any sanction of the Animal Welfare Board of India. 

Once the High Court took up the matter, the respondent spice farms were compelled to provide an undertaking that the elephants in their possession would not be used to entertain tourists thereafter.

 However, the ticklish issue of the ownership and possession of these mammals was not decided by the High Court, as a similar matter was pending in the Supreme Court. So the PIL was admitted and kept pending. 

In January 2020, a second PIL was filed in the Goa High Court by People for Animals, as it had once again received reports of commercial use of the elephants continuing at two of the three spice farms.

The spice farms denied this but the fact that requests for donations in cash or kind were appearing on social media from some of them due to the Covid lockdowns clearly showed that tourism activity was the mainstay for the upkeep of the elephants.

 At the request of the PFA the High Court permitted an expert committee led by Bangalore-based elephant ecologist Dr Surendra Varma and comprising animal behaviorists to examine the health and well being of the remaining 10 elephants.

A rigorous three days-and-nights inspection of the elephants revealed severe deficiencies in the health of some of them, as well as in the arrangements for their accommodation and general movement.

In Dr Varma’s report of January 2021, Janumani scored lowest on welfare. He strongly recommended she be rehabilitated.

The High Court bench of Justice M S Sonak and R N Laddha passed its order on July 18 permitting the transport of Janumani to the Karnataka ECF, further declaring that “we will appreciate if the Forest Department officials act with utmost despatch so that there is no delay in the matter.”  

Meanwhile, Janumani’s self-proclaimed owner approached the Supreme Court to stall the High Court’s directions. By the time the matter came up before the apex court, Janumani had already reached her new home.

The Supreme Court added its own push to the entire project when it dismissed the special leave petition of the owner.

While Janumani is the first to be set free, there are a few other elephants still in captivity in Goa awaiting their release as well.

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