In response to a petition filed by PETA India seeking to end cruel and illegal elephant rides at Amber Fort and the elephant village (Hathigaon) in Jaipur, a Rajasthan High Court bench in Jaipur – presided over by Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice GR Moolchandani – issued notices to the Government of Rajasthan, including the Chief Secretary of the Rajasthan Forest Department, the Department of Archaeology & Museums, and the Elephant Owners Development Society. The court also issued notices to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) – the prescribed authority under the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules (PARR), 2001 – and the Animal Welfare Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The matter is now listed for a hearing on 30 July 2018. Senior advocate AK Sharma appeared for PETA India in this matter. The group’s petition follows a report by inspectors authorised by the AWBI, which found that elephants were being used for rides at the historic sites, even though they were suffering from blindness and tuberculosis (TB), which is transmissible to humans.
In the petition, PETA India pointed out that these rides are illegal, because none of the elephants used are registered with the AWBI, in apparent violation of the PARR, 2001 – framed under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 – and the 2010 order of the Government of Rajasthan mandating that any use of elephants in any film, serial, advertisement, function, sport, event, exhibition, mela, or performance – including rides – requires permission from the AWBI.
After PETA India alerted the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) – a statutory body established by the Government of India under the MoEFCC to combat organised wildlife crime in the country – to the apparently illegal custody of most captive elephants used for rides in Jaipur, whose tusks have commonly been cut off and may have been sold in the ivory trade, the WCCB asked the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) of Rajasthan to probe the matter immediately.
In another development, PETA India representatives recently held meetings with high-ranking officers of the Government of Rajasthan – including the Chief Secretary and Additional Chief Secretary of Forest and Environment, Tourism, Art and Culture – at which they informed the officials of the findings of an April 2018 evaluation report on captive elephants in Jaipur by the AWBI, which revealed that 10 of the 91 captive elephants used for rides and other forms of tourist interactions in Jaipur are infected with TB. In response, the Department of Archaeology & Museums, which is responsible for regulating elephant rides at Amber Fort, ordered that the TB-infected elephants be quarantined and removed from public contact immediately.
The AWBI inspection of 102 elephants used for rides at Amber Fort revealed numerous apparent violations of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WPA). These violations include the illegal transfer of custody and transport of elephants into Rajasthan from other states and the illegitimacy of many ownership certificates. Forty-eight ownership certificates issued by the Rajasthan Forest Department refer to the “present market value” of elephants, even though assigning a commercial value to them is prohibited by law, making the certificates invalid. The tusks of 47 elephants were found to have been cut, and the custodians couldn’t produce any documents to prove that the Forest Department had granted them permission to do so, leading the inspectors to conclude that these tusks likely entered the illegal wildlife trade.
The estimated weight of the ivory from these tusks is approximately 23.5 to 47 kilograms, amounting to a significant potential contribution towards crime. Through a recent order in the matter of Wild Life Warden v Komarrikkal Elias, the Supreme Court of India observed that elephant tusks are the property of the government and that there’s a declaration to that effect under Section 39(1) of the WPA.
The AWBI-authorised report also revealed that all the elephants studied were found to be suffering from various foot problems, including overgrown toenails and bruised footpads, and many displayed stereotypical behaviour patterns, such as repetitive swaying and head-bobbing, indicating severe psychological distress. All those examined were seen carrying loads heavier than 200 kilograms, which is the legal maximum for these animals on hilly terrain such as that at Amber Fort.
PETA India had sent legal notices to the Rajasthan Department of Archaeology & Museums and the Forest Department in June 2018 asking them to stop illegal elephant rides, which are currently permitted by both departments at Amber Fort and Hathigaon. In response, we received a letter from the Superintendent of the Department of Archaeology & Museums, who forwarded a copy of the notice to the CWLW of Rajasthan stating that since the department requires a health certificate from the zoo and a No Objection Certificate from the CWLW before granting permission for rides, the CWLW should determine whether the elephant rides should be permitted. Following PETA India’s meetings with high-ranking officials in the Government of Rajasthan, the Forest Department recently sent a directive to the Department of Archaeology & Museums stating that TB-infected elephants should be quarantined and removed from public contact immediately. However, both departments failed to take any further action to stop the illegal rides, forcing PETA India to approach the court for relief.
It’s time to protect India’s sacred wildlife and to put an end to inhumane elephant rides.