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‘We’ll die if separated from them’: Delhi’s elephant owners say jumbos are family

delhi Updated: Jul 27, 2017 11:18 IST
Joydeep Thakur
Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi elephants,Delhi domestic elephants,Elephant owners in Delhi

Hira, one of the seven domestic elephants in the capital, at his owner's house in Wazirabad. As the forest department plans to shift the animals to a sanctuary, the owners say the animals will die if they are separated from them.(Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

Mention the name of ‘Farooq Hathiwala’ upon entering north Delhi’s crowded Wazirabad and the locals would instantly point towards a narrow and dusty gali number 6.

One could well be baffled while walking down the lane with houses on both sides, as there are no signs of any elephant. But a peep inside a shed adjacent to the last house of the lane would reveal a full grown tusker tied with chains and swaying back and forth.

“He is on musth now (in heat) and that’s why we have kept him chained. The children have been asked not to go near the otherwise friendly Hira. Even we don’t go near him when he is on musth,” said 22-year-old Zakir Ali.

Ali’s family, which owns three elephants at present — Hira, Dhonmoti and Laxmi — has been maintaining these animals for the past five generations at least. Earlier, they owned five. But one has been sent to Kerala to be kept in a temple and another is in Jaipur.

“The first elephant was a gift to my great-great-grandfather by a Maharaja. These elephants are like our family members. They are not used for any work. They just stay with us,” said Zakir.

The family, which owns a real estate business, doesn’t mind shelling out Rs1,000 – Rs1,500 per day for each elephant. Besides this, a mahout is appointed for each elephant. Each mahout charges around Rs 8,000 per month.

“They feed on at least 250 –300 kilos of leaves, sugarcane or jawar. We have never calculated the amount,” said Yusuf Ali, one of the owners.

Family members claimed that the elephants are so friendly that even the children play with the large animals and often the elephants shower water to bathe the children.

“Every day the mahouts take them out to river Yamuna where they bathe in the river and play in the mud. They return in the evening. Only Hira is not being allowed to go out for the past few days as it is on musth,” said Yusuf.

While Hira is kept alone, Dhonmoti and Laxmi are kept together in a separate shed a few hundred metres away. Mating has been banned by the government.

However, the family has been tensed ever since the forest department asked them to surrender the animals a year ago. The family has got a stay from the high court but the threat of separation still looms large.

“The animals would die if they are separated from us. We can’t allow this. We would have nothing to say had they been in poor health or we had kept them illegally. But the elephants are fine here and we have licences. How can the government take them away?” said Farooq, one of the family members.