HC asks authorities for stand on release, rehab of zoo’s lone African elephant

The African elephant couple was a gift to former Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma by the Zimbabwe government and they came to India in 1998. But Shankar lost his partner Bombai, named after the wife of Zimbabwe’s ambassador, and has been alone for 16 years now
African elephant Shankar has allegedly been alone in captivity at the Delhi zoo since the death of his partner Bombai in 2005. (HT Archive)
African elephant Shankar has allegedly been alone in captivity at the Delhi zoo since the death of his partner Bombai in 2005. (HT Archive)
Updated on Jan 04, 2022 05:16 AM IST
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On Monday, the Delhi high court sought to know the authorities’ stand on a plea seeking the release and rehabilitation of African elephant Shankar who has allegedly been alone in captivity at the Delhi zoo since the death of his partner Bombai in 2005.

A bench comprising chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh issued notices and sought responses from the Centre, the Delhi government, National Zoological Park, Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to the petition.

The court also directed the authorities to consider a representation preferred by the petitioner in this regard in November last year.

The African elephant couple was a gift to former Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma by the Zimbabwe government and they came to India in 1998. But Shankar lost his partner Bombai, named after the wife of Zimbabwe’s ambassador, and has been alone for 16 years now.

The plea filed by 16-year-old Nikita Dhawan, founder of Youth For Animals (YFA), said the lone African elephant is a victim of cruelty and viciousness at the hands of caretakers at the zoo, and his present condition is nothing less than illegal imprisonment.

Dhawan said it will be a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution if the animal is not rehabilitated in a sanctuary as his mental and physical health is deteriorating day by day.

The plea cited a 2009 circular issued by the CZA that banned the exhibition of elephants in zoos, as well as CZA guidelines prohibiting an elephant to be held in solitary confinement for over six months.

The petitioner, represented through senior advocate Raj Panjwani, urged the high court to direct authorities to rehabilitate Shankar in a suitable wildlife sanctuary that houses other African elephants, and to ask the CZA to submit a rehabilitation and translocation plan for all captive elephants held in zoos across India in order to implement the 2009 circular.

“He is perpetually chained...for 17 hours a day and does not get adequate space to move around… It is also pertinent to highlight that within a 100-metre distance from Shankar’s enclosure, there are multiple railway tracks, due to which there is constant noise and disturbance... These disturbances are also one of the reasons for psychological trauma to Shankar, as elephants are extremely sensitive to sounds,” the plea said.

“Shankar is shackled in chains in an enclosure which unforgivingly falls short of the prerequisites of the behemoth elephant coupled with his merciless handling. The cruelty exhibited towards Shankar departs beyond physical in nature and forays into psychological abuse as well,” the plea added.

It added Shankar’s solitary confinement and living conditions have engendered deep neurological and mental damage to the animal.

The matter will next be heard on March 9.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022