A missing elephant that had the Delhi Police and wildlife officials on its tail for over two months, with a nationwide alert being sounded in July, has been kept in hiding in the National capital all along.
The 35-year-old elephant, Laxmi, was reported missing on July 6 from the banks of the Yamuna near ITO, after its mahout fled with it. Delhi wildlife officials, who had gone to seize the elephant, got embroiled in a scuffle with the family that took care of Laxmi.
More than two months later, The Indian Express Monday met the elephant’s owner Yusuf Ali (45), who was with Laxmi in Delhi. Evading arrest at the moment, Ali said he and Laxmi never left the capital.
“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,” Ali claimed.
“A few days later, one of my friends said he has a large farmhouse where I can keep Laxmi, and it has been there ever since. I take it out every evening for a walk for about an hour or two.”
Ali said he spent the past two weeks hiding from police and changing his phone numbers. He said he would occasionally step out of hiding to buy food for Laxmi and meet his family. “It has been a very difficult time. I had to take proper care of Laxmi and it was all right if there was no food at home, but for her, I would arrange a 500-litre water tanker every day along with sugarcane and jowar,” he said.
The Indian Express met him in a one-room office that he had taken on rent and turned it into his temporary residence, where he said he had been hiding for some time.
He currently has a non-bailable warrant against him under IPC sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), his advocate Shailendra Babbar said.
On Monday, Ali said he would abide by whatever the court decided. “This is my elephant, and I have an emotional attachment with it. if (the ruling) goes in the wildlife department’s favour then I would have to give back the elephant. Until then, it is mine and maybe the court will hear my defence and understand it. Or if they ask for it to be taken away from Delhi, it is taken under my possession.”
The warrant against him was issued based on an FIR registered by a forest official, who was part of the team that had gone to seize the elephant. It alleged that Ali and his family members attacked them while they were doing their duty.
Ali, however, alleged that forest officials attacked them first, a charge denied by the department. He claimed he was en route to Ghaziabad that day, when he received a call about the incident and arrived at the spot to see his wife bleeding from an injury on her head.
He alleged, “My wife and son had gone to feed the elephant in the morning when forest officials came to seize the elephant. She asked them to show us a notice regarding this or a court order. They didn’t have anything. They started pushing her. My wife told the mahout (Saddam) that you take the elephant and run, and the officials started throwing stones at him and the elephant (to stop them).”
A senior official of the forest department denied this: “Why would we attack them? They were the ones who attacked us. Ali’s wife has been making all kinds of allegations against us, which are completely false.”
The issue stems from the findings of a committee formed by the Chief Wildlife Warden in January 2016, which recorded poor housing and health conditions and lack of suitable space and water facilities for six domesticated elephants in Delhi, violating the 2008 guidelines by the Union Environment Ministry.
Following re-inspection of the sites, a notice in April 2017 advised owners to surrender the elephants within seven days, or they would be seized. A long case of High Court petitions by the owners against forest department orders followed.
On July 1, the Delhi forest department received confirmation from the Haryana Chief Wildlife Warden that Laxmi could be moved to Ban Santour, following which they went ahead to seize it from Ali and the confrontation ensued.
After the incident on July 6, Principal Secretary of Environment and Forests Sanjeev Khirwar wrote a letter to Delhi Police chief Amulya Patnaik on July 17, seeking recovery of the elephant and action against people who allegedly attacked forest officials.
On Monday, DCP (East) Jasmeet Singh told The Indian Express, “There is no update on the elephant case at present. We have a dedicated team that is trying to recover it.”