Elephants: Wonderful But Misused Animals

There are hundreds of poor elephants on the road, carrying billboards, moving with so called religious mendicants, being sent to weddings and being hired by political parties and companies to hawk their wares, all over the countryside…Elephants are extremely sensitive, easily killed animals, despite their size. They are also very endangered with less than 15,000 left. They rarely breed and it takes two years for one baby to be born. Over 1000 are killed every year – most of them in Kerala and Assam. But dozens die in accidents going from town to town…


wonderful-but-misused-animaA while ago, I was in a little village called Deeppur in Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, campaigning for the election. Suddenly, I saw an elephant, a young boy sitting on her back stabbing her with the trident. She bore heavy billboards on either side, with Mayawati’s face on them and was surrounded by jeering children who pulled and pushed the animal. I got out of the car and asked the boy leading the elephant for his papers. He pretended to fumble for them and then started running. We chased and after he was caught, the elephant then started running, goaded by the boy on top. Anyway, the elephant was caught, the boys were taken to the police thana, the DFO was called and, since there were no papers, the elephant was sent to a forest sanctuary after spending two nights at the police station. The boys mysteriously “absconded” – which means they paid money to the police thana and were allowed to leave, even though this is a serious non bailable offence under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Two days later I received a call from a prominent Thakur family saying that the elephant belonged to them and they belonged to my political party so I should get it back. When I informed them that I would be calling the police to give them their names, they backed off.
The point is – there are hundreds of these poor animals on the road, carrying billboards, moving with so called religious mendicants, being sent to weddings and being hired by political parties and companies to hawk their wares, all over the countryside. They are extremely sensitive, easily killed animals, despite their size. They are also very endangered with less than 15,000 left. They rarely breed and it takes two years for one baby to be born. Over 1000 are killed every year – most of them in Kerala and Assam. But dozens die in accidents going from town to town. All of them have been illegally poached from the jungle. These rubbish pieces of paper called licences were given in 1972 to elephant owners for that single elephant. 35 years later, all those elephants have died terrible deaths, starved, beaten, overwalked, overused, electrocuted, poisoned, drowned, hit by cars and buses, whipped or speared once too often on the head with the ankush. Then these “licence” holders have simply gone and stolen another elephant from the jungle and used the same piece of paper. The police allow them into their towns and villages because most of them do not know the law or, if they do know it, they take a bribe to let it pass.

The animals feed on tree leaves which they break themselves while passing. But since they rarely get the time to stand in one place they break off a few leaves of peepal and then munch them as they go on. They rarely have access to water – certainly not to the 600 litres that they need daily. If the rider finds a village pond, then they drink the filthy feces covered water. Many of these elephants are “owned” by rich landlords who rent them out to young boys, charging them Rs 100 a day. The boys misuse them, beat them and use them to give rides to village children charging them money per ride. During any election, they are offered to candidates of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The animals feed on tree leaves which they break themselves while passing. But since they rarely get the time to stand in one place they break off a few leaves of peepal and then munch them as they go on. They rarely have access to water – certainly not to the 600 litres that they need daily. If the rider finds a village pond, then they drink the filthy feces covered water. Many of these elephants are “owned” by rich landlords who rent them out to young boys, charging them Rs 100 a day. The boys misuse them, beat them and use them to give rides to village children charging them money per ride. During any election, they are offered to candidates of the Bahujan Samaj Party. T.N. Seshan, when he was Election Commissioner banned the use of animal symbols but he let the elephant stay, probably because he thought that, since it was protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, it would not be used. Now, the Bahujan Samaj Party, which doesn’t care about any rules in India, uses them freely and illegally. Many circuses also buy elephants from these roaming madaris and pass them off with the papers of a previously dead elephant. In fact, according to the circuses, not a single elephant in their custody has died since 1972 – which is impossible specially since they keep them so badly. Which means that illegal buying is going on.
If you come across an elephant anywhere in rural India, stop the rider and ask for papers. Make him dismount first otherwise he will make the elephant run away. He should have ownership papers from the Wildlife Department of the State. He cannot have ownership papers of the Wildlife Department of another State as elephants cannot cross State boundaries. If that does happen, he has to have transit papers of that State as well. If he has ownership papers, check the date. If the date is 1972 and the elephant looks young then the man is a poacher. (You can tell the age of an elephant by the molar teeth. Adult elephants have a series of six molars on each side of the upper and lower jaw. The teeth break and grow again. But that is too complicated for you to assess. Get the local police to hold the elephant while you call the local DFO or animal welfare person that you know. The elephant will have to be seized and the man sent to custody. The elephant then can go into a forest range. If the police do not listen, call me at 011-23357088. It is time the people of India woke up to the open misuse and destruction of this wonderful animal.

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