The proposed amendment to Section 43 of Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972 is likely to sound the death knell for the Earth’s largest land animals in India. This amendment, if passed, it will allow the “sale of live elephants” in India. Karnataka state alone is home to more than 6000 wild elephants. Further, it would be legal to own and trade the gentle giants.
By Meera Bhardwaj
Many wildlife organizations, conservationists, experts and activists have brought the issue of commercial trading of elephants before the Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Forests. Meanwhile, FIAPO-Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization in its petition to Jairam Ramesh has appealed for dropping the mindless amendment to Section 43 and also demanded withdrawal of proviso under Section 40 (2B) permitting private ownership of live elephants.
Presently, the amendment bill is up for review and stakeholder comments before the Parliamentary Standing committee on Environment and Forests chaired by former Minister Jairam Ramesh. The Wildlife Protection Amendment Bill 2021 which was tabled in the winter session of Parliament brazenly permits commercial trading of elephants.
WILDLIFE PROTECTION ACT,1972
The existing WPA, 1972 prohibits any sale or trading of wildlife which includes captive and wild elephants. Section 43 of WPA states, “No person having in his possession captive animal, animal article, trophy or uncured trophy in respect of which he has a certificate of ownership shall transfer by way of sale or offer for sale or by any other mode of consideration of commercial nature, such animal or article or trophy or uncured trophy. Nothing in this Section will apply to tail feather of peacocks, and the animal article or trophies made therefrom or to transfer of captive animals between recognized zoos.”
However, in the WPA amendment bill, 2021, an exception has been made out in the case of ‘live elephants’ which has been specifically removed from the prohibition list (under Section 43).
Activists are up in arms against the amendment and say if this is allowed – commercial trading of elephants will become a daily affair.
PLIGHT OF CAPTIVE ELEPHANTS
The NDA government has proposed drastic changes in the WPA by diluting Section 43 and thereby, permitting sale of elephants to private owners. As it is, captive elephants are owned by temples, mutts and other individuals for religious and tourism purposes while the jumbos lead a pathetic life involving horrendous training, cramped shelters, standing for hours together, walking on bitumen roads for long distances, poor diet, ill health and finally, die a lonely and painful death.
Chaturbhuja Behera of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in his report of 2011 has revealed an active nexus of illegal capture of wild elephants from Assam and their trade via the Sonepur Mela in Bihar to meet the temple demands in the Southern states.
Further, the nexus between politicians, influential individuals, temples and maths have been exposed time and again in the trafficking of wild elephants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to Kerala and other states in the country.
Padma, a trafficked elephant from Assam to Kerala
PROPOSED CLAUSE 27
Clause 27 of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Bill, 2021 proposes to permit commercial trading of jumbos. The new sub-section 4 says Section 43 shall not apply to the transfer or transport of any live elephant by a person having a certificate of ownership, where such person has obtained prior permission from the State Government on fulfilment of such conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
This is for the first time in the country that a Schedule-1 Species and that too our National Heritage animal is up for commercial trading in India albeit legally. According to FIAPO, illegal capture from the wild, brutal training methods, transport by trucks and trains to commercial markets, bought by brokers to resell to private parties – the outcome of this will be too horrific to contemplate!
They state, “It would undo decades of conservation work with elephants – even now a species under grave threat of overdevelopment and destruction of their habitats. Though elephants are traded, leased, rented, bought and sold, the law provided a protective bulwark to hold these smugglers and criminals in check. Decades of awareness building and policy changes have significantly diminished the sale of elephants.”
WHAT IS A LIVE ELEPHANT?
Live elephants could mean both wild and captive animals. To many poachers and vested interests, a live elephant is worth more than a dead animal. In this background, the report of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s iworry campaign must be taken into account.
The report has estimated that the raw ivory value of a poached elephant is $ 21,000 while a living elephant is worth more than $ 1.6 million over its lifetime as it is an eco-tourism draw. Further, the report cites that not only travel companies, airlines and local economies are benefited by this gentle giant but even terrorist groups and criminals are funded through ivory poaching in many countries.
Hundreds of elephants are killed year after year in India due to poaching, illegal trading, electrocutions and rail & road kills.
Further, man-elephant conflicts has led to capture and captivity and in the background of WPA amendment, the future seems to be very bleak for these gentle and most intelligent mammals in a country which worships jumbos.