Amidst the hullabaloo over transportation of four elephants to Gujarat, notorious wildlife smugglers are still on the prowl in the Assam jungles to catch juvenile elephants.
Though catching elephants in the wild is a criminal offence, and the punishment for the crime is seven years imprisonment and fine of Rs 10,000, the smugglers are unperturbed.
According to sources, the smugglers, in connivance with a section of dishonest Assam Forest Department officials, have caught nearly half a dozen juvenile elephants from the wild last winter.
A video of a training session for a juvenile elephant caught from the wild is in possession of Northeast Now, and the smugglers were busy teaching the baby elephant the etiquette of captive life.
Generally, the elephant smugglers engage tribal people from villages near forests to catch the elephants, and they target mainly juvenile elephants.
For every successful catch and training, the villagers get Rs one to two lakhs per elephants, the sources said, adding that the smugglers subsequently sell them at a premium outside the state.
Sources said the smugglers have already started negotiations with prospective buyers in the mainland to sell the juvenile elephants which were caught during the last winter season.
It has been reported that two of the four elephants which were being sent to Gujarat, were caught from the wild, and were micro-chipped the day of issue of the transport permission by the Assam Forest Department.
The two elephants in question have been identified as Rupsing and Rani. Though the elephants are about six years old, their names did not feature in the list of 905 captive elephants as on December 30, 2018.
Also read: The dead man who sold his elephant in Assam
The list of 905 captive elephants was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest by former Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, D.P.Bankhwal.
While there is total ban on sale and purchase of elephants, the smugglers are smart enough to prepare documentation of the elephants caught from the jungles, and sell them in the mainland.
Arrest of notorious wildlife smuggler Md Mumtaj Siddique of Borhapjan near Doomdooma in Tinsukia district in June 2016 had brought to light several facts about illegal elephant trade from Assam.
Md Mumtaj Siddique was arrested for his alleged involvement in forging documents for claiming his ownership over two juvenile elephants.
The smuggler had produced birth certificates of the elephants and had the seal and signature of Dr. Kalpa Nath Gogoi, the then Veterinary Assistant Surgeon of Kakopathar.
According to reports compiled by the Northeast Now, between 2008 and 2015, a total of 61 elephants were illegally sold outside Assam.
Unfortunately, there is no record of the return of the 61 elephants with the Assam Forest Department.
And in most cases, the forest officials don’t know the present locations and well being of the elephants.
As per the record, in 2009, as many as 15 elephants were sent outside Assam. Similarly, 20 elephants were transported in 2014 from the state.