New Report Refutes State Government Excuses For Failing To Release Elephant Sunder Despite Bombay High Court Order

For Immediate Release:
26 December 2013

Benazir Suraiya; [email protected]
Manilal Valliyate; [email protected]

Independent Elephant Experts Examine Sunder, Disprove Officials’ Claims

Mumbai – This week, the state government informed the High Court of Bombay that efforts taken by it to relocate the 14-year-old male elephant Sunder to a sanctuary as per a 10 December 2013 High Court order failed because he is in musth (a period of sexual urge in male elephants), which is, according to officials, making him aggressive. A member of the Legislative Assembly, Vinay Kore, also claimed that steps are being taken to provide the elephant with adequate care. However, a new report from Dr TS Rajeev of the ,College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences’ Center for Elephant Studies in Mannuthy, Kerala, and Dr Sasindra Dev, a Forest Veterinary Officer in Konni, Kerala – two independent elephant experts who examined Sunder on 20 December 2013 and were authorized by the Animal Welfare Board of India, a statutory body operating under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, to do so – states that Sunder is neither in musth nor showing physical or behavioural signs of pre-musth and is “generally apathetic”, not aggressive, in nature. The experts’ report also reveals that although Sunder is not suffering from a disease – which means that there is no reason why he would not be fit for transfer to a sanctuary – he is being kept constantly chained and is suffering both physically and mentally. Earlier this month, PETA released an undercover video showing Sunder being violently beaten by his mahout.

The experts’ report also states the following about Sunder’s condition:
• “The animal’s behaviour was stereotypical during examination with extreme head swaying possibly due to … long periods of inactivity, persistent chaining to one place and absence of enrichment in living environment.”
• “The animal housing was not scientific and not satisfactory and he is under the threat of physical injury and associated problems if tethered continuous[ly] in this condition.”
• “Scars were detected arising from tight chains and rope used for restraining the animal.”
• “The animal appeared to be deficient in some nutrition especially essential vitamins which have to be supplemented urgently through natural food.”
• “The mahout seems to be highly inexperienced to handle the day to day scientific elephant management practices involving proper grooming, washing and other routine management.”
• “The management practices of bathing, grooming, cleaning of nails, exercising, humane and scientific restraining etc. were not satisfactory.”

PETA has filed a petition asking that the Maharashtra Forest Department implement its own order – as well as the recommendation from Project Elephant under the Ministry of Environment and Forests – and retire Sunder to a sanctuary. On 10 December, High Court justices MP Kanade and MS Sonak ordered Maharashtra Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Sarjan Bhagat to adhere to the ministerial order. Bhagat had been asked to submit a compliance report to the court by 23 December, but so far the state government has failed to move Sunder. The case has been adjourned to 21 January 2014. Sunder spent six years chained at the Jyotiba Temple in Kolhapur, and despite the ministerial order calling for his release to a sanctuary, he was locked in an old, dark poultry shed and chained at the behest of Vinay Kore, who had given the elephant as a “gift” to the temple.

Celebrities recently took to Twitter in a #FreeSunder campaign. Those who have participated include Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, R Madhavan, Raveena Tandon, Arjun Rampal, Sunny Leone, Amrita Rao, Kartik Murali, Vishal Dadlani, Ayushmann Khurrana, Dino Morea, Jacqueline Fernandez, Celina Jaitly and Yami Gautam. More than 62,900 people have signed PETA India’s online petition calling for Sunder’s release, and Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson have both sent letters to authorities on his behalf.

PETA’s video reveals a malnourished-looking Sunder, chained by two legs, writhing in pain and struggling to stand as the mahout strikes him repeatedly with a pole. Sunder visibly recoils in fear from the weapon-wielding mahout, who continues to threaten him with violence after he has stood.

“The state forest department is not only failing in its duty to protect Sunder, a national heritage animal, but is also contributing to the abuse that Sunder faces through its lack of action and deliberate attempts at a cover-up, and for this, officials should hang their heads in shame”, says Dr Manilal Valliyate, director of veterinary affairs for PETA India. “The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests’ failure thus far in implementing the court’s order means Sunder is still in chains, virtually unable to take a step in any direction, with the same mahout who was caught violently beating him in the video that shocked the world. For the sake of his physical and mental well-being, Sunder needs to be unchained. He needs to be given the opportunities to roam, swim in ponds and do what is natural for elephants while being cared for by people who truly have his welfare at heart.”

PETA has identified a sanctuary where Sunder could be cared for and have the opportunity to roam as well as live without chains and among other elephants.

For more information, please visit