Two elephants allegedly stolen and smuggled from Bangladesh, have found their way into an ownership row in Assam and a diplomatic complication for India.
The police in southern Assam’s Hailakandi district found two female elephants near Lakhirbond village in the district on Monday. They were reportedly stolen from Md Makhlisur Rahman of Kulaura town in Bangladesh.
Rahman had on January 28 lodged a complaint, saying his elephants when missing on January 22 from a forest behind his house. He suspected they were smuggled to India.
He networked with his relatives in Tripura and Assam’s Barak Valley areas to locate the elephants. With help from local MLA Manilal Goala, two of his kin from Hailakandi helped track them down.
“We brought the elephants, seemingly abandoned, to a field near the police lines and arrested one person on suspicion of smuggling them,” Hailakandi district superintendent of police (SP) Rajen Singh said.
The police facilitated a “reunion” between the elephants and Rahman, who reached the town on Saturday with travel papers following a flag meeting between the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Border Guards.
But the Bangladeshi national’s happiness was short-lived when a Hailakandi local named Manjurul Islam Barbhuiyan turned up Tuesday to claim he was the real owner of the elephants that went missing seven years ago.
“They were possibly smuggled to Bangladesh,” Barbhuiyan said.
The elephants, along with the two ‘owners’, were later taken to a local court. The chief judicial magistrate asked the SP to probe the ownership dispute and fixed June 23 as the date of hearing.
Earlier, Singh said the elephants responded to Rahman’s patting and embraces. “But we have asked wildlife officials to undertake a verification process,” he added.
Forest officials said it would not be difficult to verify the ‘nationality’ of the animals since, unlike in Bangladesh, domesticated elephants in India carry implanted microchips.
The ownership dispute, meanwhile, is likely to complicate the repatriation of the elephants to Bangladesh.
“The animals require clearances at the diplomatic level. It seems they will have to stay back for some time,” a district officer said.