Fight to save Captive Elephants


Oct 2013

The Big Battle Against Captivity

She did it in 2001 and then again in early 2016. Gifting of wild animals to institutions is an unethical practise that must cease to exist… starting at the top. To this end, WRRC-CUPA wrote to Smt. Jayalalithaa’s office in mid 2016 to request her to re-consider her donation of elephant calf Masini to the Sri Mariamman Temple in Samayapuram, which was being offered to the temple on account of her birthday. This temple’s former elephant, Mariappan, had been handed over to the Annamalai Forest camp due to their inability to look after him adequately. However, Masini was transferred as planned and being trained to be a blessing elephant. Her health and welfare are on our radar. Read full published article here. 


Small Steps for Mammoths…

WRRC’s Supreme Court Petition on Captive Elephants In India – An Overview by Ms. Suparna Ganguly

Legal Protection

The Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) is a Schedule I species under the Wild Life (Protection) Act of India, 1972 (“WPA”), and therefore transfer, acquisition, and transport of captive elephants are governed by the provisions of the Act.

Captive elephants are also protected under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has issued Guidelines for Care and Management of Captive Elephants (2008).

Several states such as Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Maharashtra have issued Rules and Government Orders to ban or regulate the transfer and movement of captive elephants.

Under the Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules (2003), individuals and institutions must mandatorily declare elephants in their custody to the Chief Wildlife Warden of their state, or obtain Ownership Certificates under a proviso to Section 42 of the WPA.

An imperative to protect elephants held in captivity, as wild animals, is enshrined in Article 14, Article 21, Article 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution of India.


The Reality

According to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, there were an estimated 3400-3600 elephants in captivity in India in 2000. They were owned by private individuals, temples and other religious institutions, zoos, circuses, forest camps, tourist attractions and so on. The implementation of the law and orders relating to captive elephants has been extremely poor.

Although the WPA prohibits sale, offer for sale, and any commercial transactions involving elephants, such transactions are rampant. Elephants are ‘donated’, ‘gifted’, ‘exchanged’, ‘loaned’, ‘rented’ and ‘leased’ by owners. These terms are used to cover up illegal commercial transactions, and result in the elephants being held in inadequate facilities, exposed to shocking ill-treatment and abuse. Many individuals and institutions have also not declared their elephants or obtained ownership certificates, as required under the Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules (2003).


The Plight of Captive Elephants in India

Every year there are instances of captive elephants “running amuck”, turning violent, injuring or killing people, or damaging property. Studies show that the violent behaviour of elephants can be linked to poor living conditions, such as – beating with a belt trap, prodding with the sharp steel-tipped “ankush”, chaining all four legs, walking over hot tarred roads, unlimited chaining as “punishment”. Mental and physical stress can also cause elephants to panic and stampede in public areas.

Abuse and poor living conditions also cause severe trauma to the elephants, sometimes resulting in their death. The Elephant Task Force, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, assessed the situation and made recommendations in a report titled Gajah (August 2010):

  • Measures should be taken to promote the welfare of captive elephants and their caregivers (such as mahouts) throughout the country. The upkeep, maintenance and housing of captive elephants needs to improve.
  • Certain provisions of the WPA need to be amended to ensure better protection of captive elephants.
  • The use of elephants in ‘exhibitions, circuses, weddings, unregulated tourism, public functions, begging or for other entertainment’ should be prohibited.


WRRC’s Petition before the Supreme Court

A Writ Petition on elephants in captivity in India was filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 26 June 2014, seeking appropriate Orders to effectively implement the provisions of the WPA, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, and various government directives to protect elephants held in captivity in different parts of the country. The petitioners were WRRC, Help in Suffering (Rajasthan), Wildlife Protection Society of India, Save Animals Initiative (Karnataka), Plants & Animals Welfare Society (Maharashtra), and Shri Shakti Banerjee.

The petition prays that the Hon’ble Supreme Court direct concerned Government agencies to take urgent measures to ensure the protection and welfare of the elephants. A ‘demand for justice’ was filed and served to the respondents (State Governments and the Animal Welfare Board of India), to give them a chance to respond.

The demand specifically averred that there is a pervasive breach of the existing laws an guidelines, and no effective steps were taken by the respondent authorities to discharge their public duties.

The matter first came up for hearing on 27 March 2015 and was listed on the board for 17 April 2015. From that date till 21 September 2016, there have been 11 hearings.

Some of the path breaking directions and observations made by Hon. Mr. Justice Dipak Misra has brought us much hope and optimism.

  • The Court debated the illegal practices common in ownership of elephants.
  • The use of elephants in exhibitions and parades without clearances from requisite authorities like AWBI is being scrutinized.
  • The exhibition and training of elephants per se was debated.
  • The miserable state of the Jaipur Amer Fort elephants was noted, and Notices was issued to the Government of Rajasthan seeking an explanation.
  • Similarly, a Notice was issued to the Government of Goa to explain the illegal elephant rides for tourists in Goa, being done without permissions, and involving cruelty and abuse.
  • With regards to the attempt by the Kerala State Forest Department to cover their tracks by issuing ownerships for elephants brought in illegally, the Hon’ble Judge declared that all such attempts are to be construed as illegal and unlawful.
  • The State Forest Departments of Rajasthan and Kerala submitted that 89 elephants in Rajasthan and 289 elephants in Kerala are illegal and do not have any ownership or transport papers.
  • The physical health and management status of temple elephants in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and elsewhere was brought to the Court’s notice.


A Ray of Hope

For the first time in the history of India’s captive elephant business, the murky underworld of elephant trade is exposed to the scrutiny of the Court. The decades of elephant trafficking, the ghastly nexus between poachers and elephant traders, and the neglect, corruption and apathy in government departments is out in the open.  We hope that India’s much beloved but miserable elephants in temples, circuses, logging camps and on the street will finally get justice.

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