INDIA: The Delhi High Court (HC) on Wednesday made it clear that an African male elephant gifted to India by the Zimbabwean Government in 1998 will not be sent back.
The court added that proper care of the animal will be taken in India while asking the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) to explore the possibility of importing a female South African elephant.
A Bench of Chief Justice Satish Sharma and Justice S Prasad directed the CZA and Animals Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to jointly conduct an inspection and submit a detailed report regarding the animal and the area where it is kept in the Delhi Zoo.
The HC was hearing a plea seeking the release and rehabilitation of the African elephant ‘Shankar’ who was gifted to India by the Zimbabwean Government and is kept perpetually chained at the Zoo. The Bench said it is making it clear that it will not allow repatriation of the elephant.
“We will not permit it. We will keep it in India and take care of him here only. He is ours. We will look after him properly, don’t worry,” the Chief Justice said.
The court asked the CZA and AWBI to mention in the affidavit the possibility of relocation of the elephant to some sanctuary or national park. The court, which listed the matter for further hearing on August 31, was informed by the counsel for CZA that the elephant has been in India for 24 years as he was brought here in 1998.
“Counsel for respondent CZA will explore the possibility of importing a female South African elephant of the same age,” the Bench said.
The HC had earlier issued notices and sought responses of the Centre, Delhi Government, the Zoo, the CZA, and AWBI on the petition and had directed the authorities to consider a representation preferred by the petitioner in this regard in November last year.
The plea filed by 16-year-old Nikita Dhawan, founder of Youth For Animals (YFA), said the lone African elephant named ‘Shankar’ is a victim of cruelty and viciousness at the hands of caretakers at the Zoo, and his present condition is nothing less than illegal imprisonment.
Dhawan said it would be a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution if the animal is not rehabilitated in a sanctuary as his mental and physical health is deteriorating day by day.
The plea cited a 2009 circular issued by the CZA which had banned exhibition of elephants in zoos, as well as CZA guidelines prohibiting an elephant to be held in a solitary condition for over six months.
The petitioner, represented through senior advocate Raj Panjwani, has urged the HC to direct the authorities to rehabilitate Shankar in a suitable wildlife sanctuary that houses other African elephants, and to ask the CZA to submit a rehabilitation and translocation plan for all captive elephants held in zoos across India to implement the 2009 circular.
The plea said the Zimbabwean Government had gifted an African elephant couple, Shankar and Bombai, to India in 1998. However, due to an unyielding environment, Bombai passed away in 2005, and since then, Shankar is held captive alone at the zoo here.
It said an RTI response showed horrid living conditions in which elephant was kept, and if the same continues, he will also meet the same fate as the female elephant.
“He is perpetually chained by two legs for 17 hours a day and does not get adequate space to move around,” the petitioner alleged.