PETA Refutes MLA, Temple And Forest Department’s Claims In High Court, Saying Elephant Sunder Is Being Tortured

For Immediate Release:
31 January 2014

Dr Manilal Valliyate; [email protected]
Sachin Bangera; [email protected]

PETA Tells Court That Sunder Is Not in Musth and Evidence of Cruelty Calls for Immediately Moving Him to a Sanctuary

Mumbai – Today, during a hearing at the High Court of Bombay, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) presented evidence proving that 14-year-old elephant Sunder is being tortured and is not in musth (a period of heightened sexual urge, which can make captive bull elephants aggressive from frustration) as had been claimed by Member of the Legislative Assembly Vinay Kore and the Kolhapur division of the Forest Department as an excuse for failing to implement the High Court’s order to move him to a sanctuary and to avoid a contempt-of-court charge. Sunder is at the centre of a case in which PETA is calling for his release to a sanctuary. Kore donated him to the Jyotiba temple in 2007, and he has been kept chained and inside dark sheds for most of that time. In December 2013, PETA obtained video footage that showed that Sunder’s mahout violently beat him with a pole near a poultry shed where he had been moved at the behest of Kore. That same month, the High Court ordered Sunder’s transfer to a sanctuary, but he has yet to be released by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 12 February.

Kore and the Forest Department had been claiming since December 2013 that Sunder is aggressive because he is in musth and that it is therefore having a difficult time moving him to a sanctuary. Pre-musth lasts approximately three weeks and musth for about one month. A post-musth period lasts approximately another month. During musth, there is swelling of the temporal gland on an elephant’s forehead. A smelly and bitter secretion dribbles from the gland, often reaching the elephant’s mouth. PETA’s lawyer called attention to a report from Dr TS Rajeev of the Centre for Elephant Studies at the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Mannuthy and Dr Sasindra Dev, Forest Veterinary Officer in Konni – two independent elephant experts from Kerala who examined Sunder on 20 December 2013 and were authorised by the Animal Welfare Board of India, a statutory body operating under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, to do so – that states that Sunder is neither in musth nor showing physical or behavioural signs of pre-musth and is “generally apathetic”, not aggressive, in nature. PETA’s lawyer also pointed to a video televised by ABP Majha and IBN Lokmat News on 23 January that shows that Kore and other people stood right in front of Sunder. If Sunder had been in musth, no one would have dared stand so close to him because it would have been too dangerous.

PETA noted that the temple management, not Kore, holds the ownership certificate for Sunder and that the management recently wrote to the Forest Department stating that it could no longer take responsibility for the elephant. PETA points out that there is therefore no reason for the forest department to fail to implement the court’s order to move Sunder to a sanctuary. PETA’s rejoinder, which has been filed with the court, also states that Sunder has been under the unlawful custody of Kore since October 2012. It further states that its offer to move Sunder to a sanctuary for the Forest Department has been ignored.

“Although more than one lakh people have signed PETA’s online petition calling for Sunder’s release, Vinay Kore, the temple management and the Kolhapur division of the forest department are attempting to mislead the public by giving false excuses for failing to implement the High Court’s order to move Sunder to a sanctuary”, says PETA Director of Veterinary Affairs Dr Manilal Valliyate. “Anyone who has watched PETA’s video knows that it proves without a doubt that Sunder is being violently beaten by his mahout and lives alone in chains. It is cruel and illegal to allow him to remain in the custody of his abusers.”

PETA’s petition asks 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. PETA has identified a sanctuary where he can live free of chains and in the company of other rescued elephants.

Among those who have taken to Twitter to support the #FreeSunder campaign are Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Arjun Rampal, R Madhavan, Raveena Tandon-Thadani, Sunny Leone, Ayushmann Khurrana, Dino Morea, Jacqueline Fernandez and Celina Jaitly. A copy of PETA’s rejoinder is available upon request.

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