A day after The Indian Express reported that a missing elephant, which had the Delhi Police and wildlife officials on its tail for over two months, had been kept in hiding in the national capital all along, police and the wildlife department intensified their search operations.
Wildlife officials Tuesday claimed that 35-year-old Laxmi, Delhi’s last elephant that has been missing since July 6, was last kept hidden in I P Extension, Patparganj, for around 10-15 days — less than a kilometre from the office of the DCP (East).
After receiving information that she was kept there, forest and wildlife officials said they rushed to the spot around 2 pm. But by the time they arrived at the spot, which they said was vacant land opposite a banquet hall, Laxmi and its caretaker were gone. All that remained was elephant dung, officials said.
An officer from the department, who was part of the search operation, said, “Local people, including security guards, told us that the elephant was being kept here for 10-15 days… The land does not have fencing or a boundary (wall) but has tall grass.”
He added that four teams were formed later to comb through the Yamuna floodplains from Mayur Vihar Phase 1 to Akshardham, but Laxmi could not be found. The operation will continue Wednesday.
A senior Delhi Police officer said, “The wildlife department received information that the elephant was sighted in East Delhi Tuesday and we had a joint-team working with them to trace it. We will continue our efforts and we are also trying to find Yusuf Ali.”
The Indian Express had met Ali, who claims to be the animal’s owner and has been with the elephant for the last two months, on Monday.
“After the incident on July 6, we went into hiding. I hid Laxmi in the forests near the banks of the Yamuna for a few days while I kept shifting homes, staying with my relatives here,” he had claimed.
Laxmi was reported missing after wildlife officials had gone to seize it from the banks of the Yamuna near ITO. During the operation, there was a scuffle between officials and the family that was taking care of Laxmi, in the course of which the elephant’s mahout fled with it.
The department has alleged its officers were attacked by members of the family. Later that month, a letter was sent to chief wildlife wardens across the country with the description of the elephant to help trace it.
Meanwhile, within the family that has taken care of Laxmi, a rift has emerged over who owns the animal. Relatives alleged that Yusuf is not the actual owner. Mahboob Ali (29) claimed Yusuf took hold of Laxmi illegally after his father and Yusuf’s brother, Yaqoob Ali, died in 2014. He claimed the elephant’s ownership certificate is in his father’s name. Ali denies this and claims the elephant was given to him when his father divided his assets in 2003.
Mahboob also said they have filed a civil case for taking back possession of Laxmi from Yusuf, along with a criminal case against him for allegedly taking hold of the elephant illegally.
“If Laxmi is seized by the department, it would become another lengthy process of trying to get the elephant back… Though, I would still make a request to the government,” Mahboob said.