THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Recently in central Kerala, an elephant named Rajan was leased out to an elephant contractor for Rs 3 crore for one year. Another elephant named Kannan of a private Devaswom was given to a middleman in the industry on a promissory note worth Rs 1.75 crore issued by the third party. Meanwhile, a Forest Department document issued by the chief wildlife warden stated that as many as 50 captive elephants had died in Kerala in the past one-and-a-half years before attaining their normal lifespan of 70-80 years.
A Forest Department analysis of records of around 50 dead captive elephants revealed that a majority of them were either illegally transferred or leased out. And some of the animals had been overexploited and tortured by lease-holders for maximum profit. The revelation forced Chief Wildlife Warden P C Kesavan to issue an order in the last week of August putting restrictions on leasing out jumbos to unscrupulous traders by making registration of elephants for every parade outside its district mandatory.
A High Court order in 2007 had held that sale, transfer and other dealings involving changing of hands of captive elephants should be done with the approval and in accordance with the norms prescribed by the chief wildlife warden. The Forest Department, in 2008, had directed DFOs in each district to record the movement of elephants and make clearance for inter-district movement of elephants mandatory in 2008. Illegal leasing, however, has been thriving with the connivance of authorities.
To cite an example, before the parade of each festival, the health of the pachyderm has to be checked by a qualified vet and a fitness certificate has to be issued. Last year, a department-level action was taken against a Kochi based vet after he misrepresented facts about the health of an elephant in the fitness certificate.
Elephant is one of the most trusted collateral securities in the market. One can raise money by pledging them or handing them over to a third party on 99-year lease or wet lease for a few years. The market which uses the animal as collateral security tries to make a windfall in a short period of time without considering its health and at times, as a living creature.
VK Venkitachalam, secretary of Heritage Animal Task Force, said a document submitted by the state government in the apex court stated that 52 elephants in the state are either not with their registered owners or have no valid documents. However, a recent market estimate done by the task force found that around 62 elephants had been handed over to a third party on wet-lease or other forms of leasing and transfer in the market. One can imagine the amount of torture an elephant has to bear if it is leased out at a rate of Rs 3 crore for one year, he said.
New guidelines for transportation of elephants
Whenever elephants are transported outside the registered district, the owners shall inform the Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) (social forestry) concerned about the period, destination and purpose of such transport
Owner should take back the elephants to its usual tethering place whenever the period of transportation is over
No elephant shall be transported for more than 15 days at a stretch outside the registered district
Whenever elephants are to be transported for a period of more than 15 days, owner shall obtain prior permission of the ACF and facilities for temporary housing, maintenance and upkeep of elephants shall be ensured as provided in the Kerala Captive Elephant (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2012