Friday, June 18, 2010

Jumbo camps: But where are they?

Jumbo camps: But where are they?

They are the most loved animals in India. And ironically, they are the most neglected ones! It is nothing but sheer mockery of faith when the same people and politicians who worship the elephant-faced Lord Ganesha continue to display utter apathy when it comes to the welfare of elephants. Consider this: According to official statistics there are at least 140 elephants housed in 26 different zoos and 16 circuses across India. And there are roughly 3,500 captive elephants either in the many temples across the country and forced to roam around the streets to collect alms or in logging camps transporting timbers.

The jumbo park plan!

In November last year, the Government of India announced that some of these captive elephants in zoos, circuses and temples would be housed in the soon-to-be-created ‘elephant camps’ in the jungles of India while the other young, active and competent ones would help patrol tiger reserves or in the eco-tourism projects.

The animal right activists hailed the move by the Government for this decision for it was a culmination of their long years of campaign to free and provide the captive elephants their natural habitat in forests.

8 months after, no progress yet!

But even after 8 months of announcing the plan except for a handful of elephants in one or two states transferred to jumbo parks a majority of the captive elephants continue to languish in their environments.

According to the Animal Welfare Board of India despite the announcement there have no new parks created and no funds allocated! To add to the problems, the illegal encroachments by man into the vast areas of jungles for mining projects have literally left no place for creation of new parks!

Fatal consequences!

The consequence of the official indifference in implementing the “jumbo parks plan” has meant continued suffering for the elephants. A few years ago in Mumbai an elephant roaming the streets begging was hit by a water tanker and was left unattended to suffer for one full day before it succumbed to the injuries! And in another incident an elephant disturbed by the bursting crackers on the streets went on a rampage smashing many cars before it was controlled by the paramilitary troops! These are just a few in the series of fatal accidents the elephants were exposed to!

The delay in implementing the plan to move captive elephants to jumbo parks has also meant loss of human lives! In 2006 in the state of Kerala, a temple elephant went on a rampage killing many people who had assembled there on a festive day. And last month a drunken man who sneaked into the Byculla Zoo in Mumbai to steal the iron padlock was trampled to death by a captive elephant.

The reason for the unruly behavior by the captive elephants is that they are made to live under high stress in unfriendly captive environments and most of them are chained or made to work for long hours.

A survey on Indian zoos found that the conditions and facilities in a majority of these zoos are sub-standard and literally not fit for keeping animals! Living day in and day out in these appalling conditions obviously negatively impacts the elephants’ mental balances leading to mood swings and increased arrogance. It also shortens their lifespan! The pachyderms are highly social animals when they are in their natural habitat and can live up to 60 or 65 years unlike their captive counterparts who live only for 15 years!

It is high time that the Government of India and the ‘inactive’ state governments to start implementing the plan to free the captive elephants and move them to their natural habitats if not for the sake of elephants but at least for saving human lives. Anyone listening?!