FREN CALLS ON THE PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA TO STOP THE TRANSFER OF FOUR JUVENILE ELEPHANTS FROM UPPER ASSAM TO GUJARAT

 OPEN LETTER

16TH DECEMBER 2019

ADDRESSED TO: SHRI NARENDRA MODI, PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA, SHRI PRAKASH JAVADEKAR, MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOREST AND CLIMATE CHANGE, SHRI SIDDHANTA DAS IFS, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF FOREST AND SPECIAL SECRETARY MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT, FOREST AND CLIMATE CHANGE, SHRI NOYAL THOMAS IFS, INSPECTOR GENERAL OF FORESTS MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT, FOREST AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Free Elephants Network (FREN) is a global community of elephant experts, elephant protection organisations and academics that embraces expertise from a wide variety of disciplines including the fields of science, conservation, animal welfare, non-human rights, advocacy, business, economics, social justice and the law. As Members of this group, we are deeply concerned about elephant welfare and the practice of capturing wild elephants for captivity.   

We call on the Prime Minister and Government of India to stop the transfer of four juvenile elephants from Tinsukia, Upper Assam, to the Jagganath Temple at Ahmedabad in Gujarat.     

We make this very urgent request based on the following:   

• The elephants — Rupsing, Joymati, Babulal and Rani – are suspected to have been illegally taken from the wild. For three of the elephants, there is no record of them being captive born until December 30, 2018. One male juvenile has a bullet injury on his left foreleg, suggesting violent capture.   

• The Jagganath Temple reportedly lacks adequate infrastructure and management for the elephants currently in their care. Reports and photo documentation shared by concerned members of the public show the elephants begging and used for wedding processions.1    

• The elephants would be taken from their natural home range and forced to live in a very different climate in Gujarat, which is extremely hot and offers little access to water. Elephants require a large amount of water for their health and well-being, including access to water for daily bathing.   

• In captivity the young elephants’ physical, psychological, and social needs cannot be sufficiently met, which will cause poor health, mental distress, and lifelong suffering.2 Under current law, as captives these elephants would have virtually no protection against neglect, overwork, and abuse.   

In the wild, elephants are long-lived, social, and intelligent animals who live in complex societies with vast social networks. Young elephants are highly dependent on their mothers and other family members for protection and to learn necessary social and behavioural skills, with males only leaving their family group at 12 to 15 years old and females remaining for life. Any disruption to the elephants’ social bonds is physically and psychologically traumatic for adults and calves alike.    

If the four elephants were in fact taken from the wild, they have been subjected to the trauma of being removed from their natal herd. This separation is certain to cause long-term adverse effects on their health and welfare as they grow up lacking the normal social, psychological, physical, and environmental conditions that are crucial to the wellbeing of these complex and highly intelligent animals.3 Even if born in captivity, the trauma of separation causes the same long-term effects.   

The forcible capture and removal of wild elephants from their home ranges and social groups is archaic and unethical. Elephants adapt poorly to life in captive facilities where they have shorter lifespans and abnormal repetitive behaviours and chronic (and ultimately lethal) foot and joint disorders are prevalent.4 Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis5 and other emerging illnesses are going unchecked and taking a serious toll on elephants.  

Furthermore, the removal of young elephants from their families in the wild increases the risk of the remaining adult elephants becoming more aggressive towards innocent citizens they may encounter later.                                                         

 1 Singh V. (2016) Central Zoo Authority: no more wild animals in circuses, says Central Zoo Authority, Times of India, 7 Dec 2016. Available: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/no-more-wild-animals-in-circuses-sayscentralzooauthority/articleshow/55858347.cms. Accessed 17 Jan 2017  2 Rizzolo J.B.; Bradshaw G.A. (2016) Prevalence and patterns of complex PTSD in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Centre for Asian Studies, University of Kelaniya; Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, pp. 291–297  3 Bradshaw G.A.; Lindner L. (2009) Post-traumatic Stress and Elephants in Captivity. Available: https://pdfssemanticscholar.org/b5b9/4307d6f45747fdccfb82dc 5a69df71d02658.pdf  4 Clubb R.; Rowcliffe, M.; Lee P.; Mar K.U.; Moss C.; Mason G.J. (2008) Compromised survivorship in zoo elephants, Science 322: 1649–1649  5 Michalak, K.; Austin, C.; Diesel, S.; Bacon, M.J.; Zimmerman, P.; Maslow, J.N. (1998) Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection as a zoonotic disease: transmission between humans and elephants. Emerg Infect Dis. 4:  283  

In February, India will host the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS, COP 13), where it will seek the strictest protections for Asian elephants. Goals of the COP include prohibiting the killing or capture of elephants and to gain control of the illegal trade in live elephants. The four young elephants, who very likely were wild born, are emblematic of these very problems and we fully expect their plight to be raised by delegates attending this event.   The world looks to India as a leader in the protection and conservation of Asian elephants. Should the transfer of the four young elephants go forward, it is sure to tarnish the country’s image in the eyes of the world. By sparing these elephants, India aligns itself with the global trend toward greater protections for elephants and away from intensive commercial exploitation, including public interactions.  

We respectfully urge you to take immediate action to stop the transfer of Rupsing, Joymati, Babulal and Rani and spare them a lifetime of misery.

These elephants should be rehabilitated at one of the Forest Department Elephant Camps in Assam where they would have free access to conspecifics and a natural forest environment. In doing so, you would grant them a far superior life – one that could never be matched in the unnatural, restricted conditions of a captive institution.   

We appreciate your serious consideration of this letter.    Yours sincerely,     

1. Penny Banham    Conservation Project Officer,  Born Free Foundation UK 

2. Dr Brett Bard    Veterinarian, South Africa  

3. Dr Jessica Bell Rizzolo   Postdoctoral Researcher, the Conservation Criminology Lab, Dep of Fisheries and  Wildlife, Michigan State University 

4. Dr Gay Bradshaw   Director, Kerulos Center for Nonviolence – USA 

5. Carol Buckley    Director, Elephant Aid International  

6. Megan Carr   Vice-President, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos  

7. Lenin Chisaira    Founder, Advocates 4 Earth – Green Law Connect, Zimbabwe 

8. Dr Betsy Coville     Wildlife Veterinarian – USA 

9. Dr Harvey Croze    Collaborating Researcher, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya 

10. Audrey Delsink     Wildlife Director, the Humane Society International (Africa), Elephant Ecologist  

11. Catherine Doyle    Director of Science Research and Advocacy, Performing Animal Welfare Society USA 

12. Nomusa Dube    Founder, Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation 

13. Stefania Falcon    Co-Founder, Future 4 Wildlife, South Africa   

14. Michele Franko    Senior Research Associate – Elephant Care & Wellbeing at the Kerulos Center for Nonviolence, USA

15. Chief Stephen Fritz   Traditional Leader, Members of the South Peninsula Customary Khoisan Council South Africa

16. Dr Marion Garai    Chairperson, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and  Trustee Elephant Reintergration Trust, South Africa

17. Johanna Hamburger   Wildlife Attorney, Animal Welfare Institute – USA 

18. Rachel Harris   Managing Director, Elephant Human Relationship Aid, Namibia 

19. Dr Ross Harvey    Economist, Botswana    

20. Dr Michelle Henley   Director, ElephantsAlive! – Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, South Africa   

21. Alok Hissarwala Gupta   Elephant Specialist,  Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations 

22. Iris Ho    Senior Wildlife Specialist, The Humane Society International   

23. Lynne James    Committee Member, Mutare SPCA, Zimbabwe 

24. Dr Mark Jones    Veterinarian, Born Free Foundation, UK 

25. Dr Paula Kahumbu   WildlifeDirect, Kenya   

26. Professor Mohan Kharel  Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal 

27. Jim Karani    Advocate, Lawyers for Animal Protection in Africa 

28. Dr Winnie Kiiru   Founder, Conservation Kenya 

29. Kahindi Lekalhaile    Africa Network for Animal Welfare, Kenya  

30. Dr Smaragda Law   Director, Ban Animal Trading, South Africa  

31. Giorgio Lombardi   Warden Vogelgat Private Nature Reserve, M.S. Rhodes University, South Africa  

32. Linda Masudze    Advocate 4 Earth, Zimbabwe  

33. Varda Mehrotra   Executive Director, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations  

34. Brett Mitchell   Director, Elephant Reintegration Trust, South Africa  

35. Mary Morrison    Advocate, WildlifeDirect, Kenya 

36. Michele Pickover    Director, EMS Foundation, South Africa 

37. Sharon Pincott    Elephant Behavioural Specialist, ex-Hwange, Zimbabwe  

38. Dr Yolanda Pretorius   SA Wildlife College, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and  Elephant Reintergration Trust, South Africa

39. Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach  Head of Wildlife Research and  Animal Welfare, World Animal Protection International  

40. Dr DJ Schubert    Wildlife Biologist, Animal Welfare Institute – USA  

41. Ed Stewart   Director, The Performing Animal Welfare Society 

42. Peter Stroud   Independent Zoological Consultant – Former Zoo Director, Australia  

43. Antoinette Van de Water    Director, Bring the Elephant Home, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, South Africa

44. Amy P. Wilson    Director, Animal Law Reform South Africa  

45. Prof Dan Wylie   Rhodes University, South Africa  

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