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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Dung, footprints and disappointment: On trail of Delhi’s missing elephant

On Tuesday, a day-long search by a 14-member team of forest department proved futile even as the animal’s dung and footprints were found near Ghazipur in east Delhi around 12.30pm.

delhi Updated: Sep 18, 2019 09:11 IST
Vatsala Shrangi
Vatsala Shrangi
New Delhi
A recent photo of Lakshmi shared by the family of her caretaker, Yusuf Ali.
A recent photo of Lakshmi shared by the family of her caretaker, Yusuf Ali.(SOURCED)
         

Lakshmi, Delhi’s last elephant, which had gone missing two months ago and for whom a pan-India alert had been sounded, was hiding barely 800 metres away from the office of the deputy commissioner of police (East), Delhi forest department officials said.

“The elephant was being kept at the floodplains close to the office of deputy commissioner of police (east) for the last two months. We have laid a trap and will be able to catch the animal and its caretaker soon,” said a senior forest department officer, who has been part of the search operation.

Despite repeated attempts DCP (East) could not be reached for a comment.

The pachyderm’s caretaker, Yusuf Ali, had taken the animal away on July 6 after the Delhi high court had ordered to shift all animals in the city to Haryana. While a case had been registered against Ali at Shakarpur police station, teams of forest department had been looking for the elephant all across the Yamuna floodplains.

On Tuesday, a day-long search by a 14-member team of forest department proved futile even as the animal’s dung and footprints were found near Ghazipur in east Delhi around 12.30pm.

“We had got a lead on the elephant’s location in the day and a search operation was launched. But they somehow got information and started changing their locations. There are inaccessible locations and also, the local residents are not cooperating. Our motive is to rescue the elephant. We will resume the search tomorrow,” said a senior officer from the forest department.

The caretaker’s family on Tuesday admitted that they were hiding the animal in the Yamuna floodplains “somewhere near ITO”. They said they were waiting for a reprieve from the high court. Forest officials say the 59-year-old elephant is ill and needs medical help. The officials also said that Ali has taken possession of the elephant despite court orders.

Lakshmi is Delhi’s last elephant, and was supposed to be “seized” by the forest officials and taken to a safe place away from human habitation according to a Delhi high court order.

On Tuesday, teams of forest officials split into three groups and scurried across areas, including Patparganj, Madhu Vihar, Madanpur Khadar and in the floodplains for over eight hours.

“One of the locations traced on Tuesday was again close to the DCP (East) office. There is tall grass in that area and could be a safe hideout. Ali, his son Shakir and Saddam, the elephant’s mahout, have been evading arrest for long,” said another officer from the forest department.

Three police teams joined the operation only in the latter half of the day. A senior police officer, not wishing to be named, said, “Our teams joined the operation and have been on it for almost five hours. They have been changing hideouts along with the elephant. A probe is on.”

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing Ali and his son had moved the Delhi High Court seeking anticipatory bail after their plea was rejected by a city court. Ali’s family said they will produce the elephant when he and his son will get bail.

“The court will hear the plea on September 23. We will bring the elephant out at the Yamuna hathi ghat, where it used to be once they are granted bail. The elephant has been a part of our family. My father has been in hiding just to take care of her,” said Shajib, Ali’s younger son.

First Published: Sep 18, 2019 01:06 IST

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