After the recent deaths of four elephants who were used for tourist rides in Jaipur, PETA India has fired off a letter to the chief secretary of Rajasthan, Rajeeva Swarup, requesting that he order a probe. Two of these elephants (numbers 64 and 99 – Chanchal and Rani, respectively) had tested reactive for tuberculosis (TB) in 2018 during an inspection by the Animal Welfare Board of India but were questionably declared TB-free later by the Rajasthan Forest Department. We have made multiple requests to the department to test all elephants in Jaipur for TB and to quarantine and treat those who are sick. In our letter, we also advised that the department implement a policy prohibiting the entry of any new elephants into the state.
In 2008, the Ministry of Defence decided to prohibit the use of elephants during Republic Day parades, concluding that there are serious safety concerns, since frustrated elephants may become violent – and that uncertainties existed regarding the legality of their ownership. In 2014, in order to protect elephants and the public, the Maharashtra Forest Department banned their entry into municipal corporation areas of the state.
Just as the Rajasthan government has taken steps to address the health-care challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it must protect the public from another deadly zoonotic disease – tuberculosis, which can spread from elephants to humans, just as COVID-19 is thought to have first jumped the species barrier through wildlife.
It’s high time that the government implemented a policy decision to end dangerous elephant rides.