Kerala and Assam account for over half the 2,454 elephants in captivity across the country; of these, one-third are in private custody without any ownership certificate mandated by law; zoos, circuses and temples account for 207 elephants in captivity.
This is according to the first survey of elephants in captivity, that is part of an affidavit the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has submitted to the Supreme Court. The affidavit comes in the wake of rising elephant deaths and human-elephant conflicts, particularly in Kerala and Assam.
The Court had directed the MoEF to identify elephants in captivity and whether their owners have an ownership certificate, while hearing a writ petition filed by Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. The bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer has now directed the Chief Wildlife Wardens of states to “ascertain the age of all the captive elephants” and will hear the matter on February 12.
According to the affidavit, there are 2,454 elephants in captivity, of which 560 are in possession with forest departments and 1,687 with private individuals. However, 664 of the total captive elephants in the country are without ownership certificate while there are 85 in zoos, 26 in circuses and 96 in temples.
The MoEF told the apex court that 58 per cent of all captive elephants is concentrated in two states: 905 in Assam and 518 in Kerala.
The affidavit also points out discrepancies in the data of captive elephants submitted by Bihar which states that it has 66. But the MoEF affidavit states that as on December 21, 2018, there are “59 elephants in custody of private person as against 73 in 2016 compilation”.
“Out of the 59 privately owned captive elephants, 50 elephants verified in these survey are from the previously compiled list of 75 elephants and 9 elephants are different from previous record. Status of 19 elephants are not known and 4 elephants have reportedly died,” said the MoEF.
“…Bihar further stated that in a number of cases the verification or collection of relevant information has not been completed due to absence of owner/custodian or other reasons.”
In November, the Court had pulled up the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) for not having data on the number of elephants held captive. “Your (AWBI) submission is that if something is happening in front of your eyes, you will say that I will not take any action as it is for the states to see. You do not even have the data on elephants,” the SC had said.