Assam Has Maximum Captive Elephants in India; Registers Rise in Jumbo Deaths, Conflicts

Guwahati: Assam has the highest number of captive elephants of which some are with the forest department, while the rest are in private custody. Of the 2,675 captive elephants across the country, as many as 905 are in Assam.

An RTI query filed by animal rights activist Antony Clement Rubin has revealed the Assam forest department has 150 elephants, while 752 pachyderms are in private custody. A total of 335 elephants in possession of private individuals have no ownership certificate or their documents are under process.

“The ones in the hands of the forest department are being used for patrolling parks and sanctuaries. Elephants in private hands are now being engaged in tourism. A few are also being used to keep wild herds out of agricultural fields. Besides, a handful of Assamese owners are still maintaining elephants as a family tradition,” said honorary wildlife warden Kaushik Baruah.

“However, a large number of Assam's captive elephants are believed to be engaged in timber extraction in the neighbouring states,” he added.

Meanwhile, human-elephant conflicts in Assam seem to have spiraled out of control with 46 people losing their lives and 36 elephant deaths reported till November 19 this year.

Baruah said 12 people and 16 elephants have died in less than a month’s time. Wildlife officials said the elephants had fallen prey to poison or were killed by electrocution.

On Tuesday, two elephants were found electrocuted in Goalpara district. Their bodies were found at the same spot from where the forest department had captured Krishna, the adult wild elephant that had killed five people in the area.

On November 17, around 5:45am, Krishna died of “cardiac arrest due to shock and stress,” said sources who were part of the operation to capture the elephant. A post-mortem report is awaited.

In what seemed to be “a breach of standard operating procedures”, on November 11, the forest department allowed BJP MLA Padma Hazarika, accompanied by veterinarians, to shoot darts to tranquilise the jumbo.

Harsh traditional methods were used to dominate the over 10-feet tall elephant, which fell on its back before a jeering crowd after being tranquilised by the MLA and his cousin. Six trained elephants or ‘kunkis’ were engaged in the operation to further subdue the fully sedated pachyderm.

The Kanyakuchi Reserve Forest of Rangjuli range under Goalpara forest division was filled with villagers setting up ice cream and tea stalls as more than 5,000 people had gathered to watch the spectacle.

Earlier named ‘Laden’ by locals, Krishna was kept for six days at a training camp in the Orang National Park — every other forest division had refused to accommodate the elephant.

Forest officials also faced resistance from locals who objected to the release of the elephant, stating that it was a “dangerous one” that would kill more people if set free.

The government then decided to train the almost-40-year-old captive elephant that was said to be in its peak musth, a periodic condition that can lead to aggression in the animal. Experts, later, said an elephant can be trained only till the age of 15 years.

“This particular elephant was a victim of circumstances. Once captured, he became homeless, which finally led to his death. This should give us enough reason to secure their habitats,” said Baruah, as he expressed concern about the dwindling population of Asian elephants.

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