The Assam forest department is preparing to send four elephants across the country to Ahmedabad through a ‘stressful” train journey of more than 3,100 km to participate in a temple ritual. The decision came after three elephants in Jagannath temple died last year and the trustees decided to “borrow” the tuckers from Assam.
The BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi said that the long journey could be dangerous for the animals and may even kill them. The elephants are moved from Tinsukia town in the north-eastern state of Assam to the Ahmedabad in Gujarat state – the extreme west of the country. The railway authorities in Assam are looking for a coach on a three to four-day long journey to transport them. They are expected to reach Ahmedabad before 4 July to participate in the annual Rath Yatra (chariot procession) at the Jagannath temple.
The activists reportedly believes that it is “cruel and completely inhuman”to make the elephants travel when temperatures are boiling (about more than 40C ) in the northern Indian. “Most of north-western India is reeling under a heatwave. There have been reports of people dying of heat during train journeys. Those elephants can suffer from heatstroke, from shock, and even die”, said Kaushik Barua, a wildlife conservationist based in the Assam state capital, Guwahati.
“The wagon in which the elephants will be transported is not climate-controlled. It will be hitched to a passenger train which will be travelling at a speed of 100 km/h (62mph), so can you imagine the plight of the animals?” he added. According to the rules, no elephant can be made to walk for more than 30 km (18 miles) at a stretch or transported for more than six hours in one go.
Gaurav Gogoi, who’s petitioned India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to intervene wrote in his letter : “Roughly half of the country is struggling through its worst drought in six decades. These are extreme conditions for the elephants to travel. The elephants may suffer from acute skin infection and dehydration. Therefore, I request the central government to intervene and instruct the state government to withdraw the decision as soon as possible.”
“Elephants – both wild and captive – are a protected species in India and there are strict guidelines for their transportation”,said wildlife biologist Dr Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar.
The state’s wildlife officials, who’ve issued transit permits for the elephants, have so far refused to comment on the controversy. But after protests from activists and conservationists.
“They have gone into a huddle, discussing a plan B. There’s some suggestion that the pachyderms may be moved in trucks to allow them the flexibility to stop if needed and that they could be accompanied by a forest department veterinarian to look after them” said a wildlife expert. However, Mr.Barua is still blunt. “Gujarat doesn’t need these elephants,” he says. “Wildlife laws prevent [the] display and exhibition of elephants. Laws ban performances by elephants in circuses, zoos are not allowed to exhibit them, so why should temples be allowed to use them in rituals or processions? Don’t elephants have rights?”
“We worship Ganesha, the Elephant God. Why are the Gods then being put through such cruelty by a temple?” he added.