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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

India Intelligence Report

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   The Begging Elephants of Assam


A Supreme Court (SC) order that stopped rampant deforestation in North Eastern India, especially Assam, has rendered the 1200 domesticated forest working elephants and their mahouts jobless reducing them to street beggars accepting whatever people offer.

Plans to have the elephants moved to South India which houses elephants in temples are non-starters as elephants are classified under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act which prohibits their transfer, sale, or movement within India. This law was created to control the rampant poaching of wild elephants for their tusks and also illegal trapping of young calves for “donations” to temples. With this inclusion, those practices have been contained to a large extent.

This is a classic case of the judiciary having to fill in where the legislature and administration have failed. Previously, the SC ordered that all garbage be incinerated creating a storm with environmentalists who shudder at the idea of thousands of poorly managed incinerators spewing smoke and vastly increasing global warming. That order has since been rescinded.

The political class used to creating quick fixes, is now thinking of removing elephants from Schedule 1 to protect these domesticated ones and not worrying about compromising the wild cousins. This move will fail not only the domesticated ones but also the wild ones since all restrictions on illegal trade will encourage poachers and forest mafia to run amuck.

The right answer is what Sri Lanka has done. In Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, they have housed hundreds of elephants orphaned, maimed, and abandoned by decades of civil war. If an economically depleted Sri Lanka can fund such a cause, surely an economically vibrant India can create such a sanctuary.

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