Updated: June 27, 2019 9:43:37 pm
The controversial move to transport four elephants from Assam to Ahmedabad’s Jagannath Temple has been temporarily called off according to an order by the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) of Assam, Ranjana Gupta.
The fresh order, issued by CWLW Gupta on Thursday, cites the heatwave conditions of North India as the reason for temporarily suspending the move. According to orders (Nos. 410, 411, 412, 413) issued for each of the four elephants, the move has been “kept in abeyance.”
On June 12, a transit permit order signed by the CWLW Gupta directed four captive elephants to undertake a 70-hour journey from Assam to Gujarat to take part in a religious function in Ahmedabad. The Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad, which hosts the annual rath yatra around July every year, had sought these elephants to replace the ones it had lost. Last year, three out of the twenty elephants of the temple died due to old age.
The news drew the ire of wildlife activists around the state. On June 21, Avinava Prayash, a Guwahati-based NGO that works for animal rights and welfare, filed a PIL (No. 39/2019) in the Gauhati High Court challenging the move on primarily two grounds. First, the prevalent heatwave conditions in North India which could potentially harm the pachyderms. Second, an interim Supreme Court order from May 2016 that banned the inter-state transfer of elephants, with regard to a notification passed by the Kerala Government.
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After two days of hearings, on June 25, the Gauhati High Court passed an order saying it was “ill-equipped to make any comment in what manner the elephants are to be transported” and directed CWLW Gupta to “pass a fresh order taking into consideration all relevant aspects in the matter of transportation of the elephants.” The order also said that the “safety and well-being of the elephants are of paramount importance” and that these factors should be taken into consideration.
On June 26, an expert veterinary committee was formed to advise the forest department on the move. The five membered-committee submitted a report that categorically spelled out the dangers of transporting elephants in such weather conditions “Evolutionarily, elephants as compares to humans, have a very weak thermoregulatory system owing to presence of minimal sweat glands and presence of intra-abdominal testicles which is otherwise external in case of most mammals. The body temperature of elephants is 37 degrees Celsius and their comfort zone is 25-25 degree celsius,” the report stated, “Thus there is every possibility of heatstroke of the elephants by any means of transport.”
While the order for the temporary suspension of the move has brought relief to those fighting the case, activists are still circumspect.
One of the two petitioners, Urmimala Das, founder of Avinava Prayash, said that while the order had “brought her relief, it was not the solution.”
“These animals got saved because it’s summer. We must remember that this is only a temporary order. What if they try to do this again in the winters? We must think of the future. In a way, the fight has just begun,” she said.
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