By Richa Sharma
NEW DELHI: It’s an elephantine problem with no solution in sight. Wildlife authorities in neighbouring Haryana have launched a massive hunt to locate an elephant that has gone missing for over two months, now. The animal was last seen when Zakir Hussain, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) candidate from Nuh, rode it to file his nominations for October’s state Assembly elections.
For Hussain, the publicity may have paid off as he went on to win the election, but his act has caught the attention of wildlife activists, who lodged a protest with the Election Commission (EC) and Union Minister and animal rights crusader Maneka Gandhi.
As the EC gave Hussain a slap on the wrist, Maneka, who is also chairperson of animal rights organisation People for Animals, wrote to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to ensure the elephant was traced, rescued and rehabilitated, and the owner punished for the offence. The MoEF in turn asked the Haryana Forest Department to take up the matter on a priority basis.
According to the premilinary probe, the elephant was brought from Assam and the owner had sought a temporary permit from the Forest Department. The department was, however, unaware about the use of the elephant by the MLA, till the matter was highlighted by an NGO. Elephants, designated as a National Heritage Animal in 2010, are barred from being used for commercial purposes or kept in captivity in zoos. The Forest Department, which has ordered an inquiry into the incident, is grappling with the task of identifying the tusker’s owner.
“Elephants cannot be traced and rescued until the real owner is identified and that requires checking the ownership certificates. But in the journey from Assam to Haryana, the elephant has changed many hands and it will take some time before the real owner is traced,” sources said.
Hurdles for the department rangers do not end with tracing the elephant. The next challenge is what they would do with it, since the department does not have sufficient funds to feed the animal. There are already three elephants in its custody. The police are sometimes reluctant to take action in such cases due to their high maintenance costs, so they send them to a rescue centre or return them to their owners, department officials say.
On an average, an adult Asian elephant eats nearly 200 kg of vegetation, including grass, leaves, shoots, barks and fruits, and drinks 150 litres of water daily. Besides, they need open spaces to roam about.