Wanted: A new home for ailing elephant Lakshmi
Having run out of options, Delhi government’s forest department is searching for a shelter to house Lakshmi, one of the national capital’s three remaining elephants, who has been diagnosed with herpes — a zoonotic viral disease.
While the other two elephants having already found new homes in Uttarakhand and Haryana, 41-year-old Lakshmi has not found a taker yet because of having herpes, which is infectious and can be transmitted to other species, said officials in the forest department.
“We had written to several states asking them to take the three elephants. In case of Lakshmi, who is suffering from the disease, we could not find any takers. We had also written to the Delhi zoo authorities requesting them to take the elephant in their custody. However, we were told that the zoo is already full and they cannot take another elephant,” said a senior official.
The department is at present looking for a suitable shelter for Lakshmi, as the city does not have a facility to house elephants, the official said.
Meanwhile, Lakshmi continues to live with her owner in a shed at Jagatpur in Sangam Vihar.
In February 2018, the Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand had got the samples of the Delhi’s six domesticated elephants tested. In its report submitted to the city forest department it had stated that Lakshmi is positive with EEHV (Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus).
The elephants had to been ordered to be shifted out of Delhi, as the city does not provide a natural habitat to house these animals. In 2016, the Delhi High Court had asked the forest department to ‘seize’ these animals and rehabilitate them.
The department had issued seizure notices to the owners of the elephants; however, it has taken time to find new homes for them, said officials.
According to animal activists, all the elephants had foot ailments because of walking on tarred roads and being commercially exploited for several events and weddings.
Recently, animal activist Gauri Maulekhi had filed a petition in the Delhi Gigh Court citing apathy of the forest department against wild animals and stating that the city did not have wildlife rescue centres where animals could be given medical assistance in time.
“The forest department not being able to provide adequate housing and veterinary care to the elephant amounts to violation of Section 39 of the Wildlife Protection Act. The department must expedite its efforts to rehabilitate the ailing animal to alternative sites having some wilderness,” she said.
Last month, Maulekhi had written to the Delhi government’s chief secretary alleging that Lakshmi, suffering from herpes, was made to walk 25 kilometres to be displayed at a wedding function held at a hotel in Gurugram on Februray 14.
A petition in this regard was filed in the Delhi High Court in which the court had asked the Delhi government to file a counter affidavit by July 10.
“Infected adult elephants may not show symptoms but remain carriers and can infect other adults. The treatment includes course of anti-viral medications. Elephant calves are known to die from herpes virus. Generally, the onset is acute in calves and thus the time for treatment is less,” said Dr Yaduraj Khadpekar senior elephant veterinarian, Wildlife SOS.