KOCHI: The Central Government’s decision to ban elephant trade at the ‘Sonepur Mela’ in Bihar has come as a blow to captive elephant owners in the State, where elephants smuggled from Bihar are widely used for cultural events. According to experts, nearly half of the 599 elephants in Kerala are brought from North India. It is estimated that the elephant trade mafia operating in Bihar has received a huge amount from buyers in Kerala over the years.
Though the former Kerala Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife and Chief Wildlife Warden) had asked his Bihar counterpart not to issue permits for transportation of elephants bought at the Sonepur Mela to Kerala, jumbos continue to find their way into the State through illegal means.
However, the illegal trade is expected to come to an end soon, with Union Minister Prakash Javadekar banning sale, purchase and transfer of elephants from Bihar, through an order (D.O.No. 2-1/2014-PE) dated October 14, 2015.
“According to Forest Department officials, the latest elephant registration statistics show that there are around 599 captive elephants in Kerala, of which 289 do not have ownership certificate. Around 318 of the registered elephants in the State have been brought from North Indian states, mainly from Bihar,” said Heritage Animal Task Force general secretary V K Venkitachalam, adding that around Rs 2,500 crore has flowed out of the State on account of jumbo trade.
Meanwhile, Elephant Owners’ Federation general secretary V Sasikumar said there were only 170 ‘Bihari’ elephants in Kerala. He also rubbished reports of huge amounts being invested by owners to by elephants from outside the State, saying that the figures were exaggerated. “Though Kerala had banned elephants from the Sonepur Mela and elephant trade in general in the State way back in 2008, Keralites can purchase elephants legally at the Sonepur Mela, with permission of the wildlife warden in Bihar. However, those elephants cannot be legally brought to the State as trade is banned here,” he said.
According to animal rights activists, the abundance of captive elephants (289) maintained in the state without registration certificate, indicates that a large number of elephants were brought to the State illegally, until recently.