By Ishita Mishra
AGRA: The Centre has teamed up with animal rescue organization Wildlife SOS to rescue captive elephants being illegally used for circus performances, as part of its project to check maltreatment of wild animals, an official statement said on Monday. Wildlife SOS was instrumental in the release of Raju, the elephant who cried after being released from a life of chains after 50 years, and has collaborated with the government against the practice of using bears for dance performances. Now, the organization will partner with the government to save 67 captive elephants from across the country, starting with 17 in the first phase, Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said.
The rescue effort will include launching a fundraising campaign to raise funds for investigations, pursuing legal action, conducting rescue operations, transportation of rescued elephants and settling the animals in their new homes.
Talking about the plight of elephants in an Indian circus, Chambal DFO and Etawah lion safari project in-charge Anil Patel said despite the ban on use of elephants for performance, the animals continue to be exploited in Indian circuses. The animals are forced to perform illegally, and are beaten and chained.
"Circus elephants suffer from lack of proper care and poor diet as they are not money-catchers for owners. Video evidence shows beatings with sharp hooks and use of electric prods during training," Patel said.
Initiatives to protect the elephant are not recent. In 1992, the ministry of environment and forests launched Project Elephant, designed to help elephants both wild and captive. In 1998, the central ministry banned the use of wild animals like tigers, bears, leopards, lions and monkeys in circuses. The elephant joined that list recently. The Animal Welfare Board of India has issued show-cause notices to circuses found lacking in animal welfare and documented maltreatment of elephants.
Speaking of initiatives for elephants, Satyanarayan said, "The project for rescuing circus elephants was launched under the able leadership of minister of environment & forests Prakash Javadekar, who facilitated setting up of the first elephant rehabilitation center in Haryana in collaboration with Wildlife SOS and Haryana forest department. This facility currently houses three rescued elephants and can accommodate 50 elephants."
One case that is on the Wildlife SOS radar on a priority basis is that of Suzy (name changed), a female circus elephant, Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said.
Suzy is blind and is suffering from very poor health. Confused and lost, she is forced to stand in her own dung and urine for days. She remains chained all the time except when she is forced to perform tricks. Suzy's mental and physical health status is very poor due to complete lack of veterinary care, no exercise, and an unbalanced diet with poor nutrition. The elephant is in a great deal of pain. To top it all, her dental health is bad, as indicated by undigested food in her dung. She is suffering, but there is no one to help her, Seshamani said.
"We have placed Suzy at the top of our priority list and hope to bring her to our elephant care center in the near future," Seshamani said.
"With the help of caring people around the world, and the cooperation of the Government, Suzy will be just one of more than a dozen elephants we will be able to rescue from the sad circus life in 2015," Seshamani said.