Inspect facilities of trust which has custody of hippo of Asiad Circus: HC to AWBI

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New Delhi, Feb 17 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Wednesday directed the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to visit the premises of a religious trust in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where a 9-year-old hippopotamus owned by the Asiad Circus is being presently kept, and to ascertain the living conditions of the mammal and the facilities available to it.

Justice Prathiba M Singh said the AWBI inspection team, which could also include representatives of PETA India, will thereafter file a status report indicating the animal's conditions, the facilities available to it and whether the Board had any objection to the hippo being retained by the trust.

The court also kept in abeyance, till the next date of hearing, its January 22 direction to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (SPCA) to take custody of the hippo and place it in a zoo.

It also said that the non-bailable warrants (NBWs) it issued against the owner of the circus shall also be kept in abeyance subject to an undertaking that he would be present before the court on the next date of hearing -- April 15.

The directions came on an intervention application moved by the Radhe Krishna Mandir Hathi Kalyan Trust, based in Ahmedabad, which was given custody of the hippo by the circus owner in October 2019.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the trust, told the court that his clients were not informed until very recently about this litigation by the circus owner.

The trust also placed before the court photographs of the hippo, named chhotu by them, and his living conditions and claimed that the mammal was 'safe and well looked after'.

After perusing the photographs, Justice Singh said that 'it was clear that the hippopotamus has been provided all requisite facilities in terms of living conditions and food and other facilities'.

The court also said that the photographs also show that 'the hippopotamus is being treated well'.

The court had passed the January 22 order to seize the hippo and also issued NBWs against the circus owner -- Riazuddin Khan -- noting that he has failed to take a stand on the issue and has not disclosed the location of the male hippopotamus since filing of the petition by PETA in 2018.

Animals rights organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) approached the high court in 2018, seeking immediate seizure of the male hippopotamus.

It has said, in its plea, that the hippopotamus was imported by the Asiad Circus company from Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park in Patna in February 2015 and was being trained to give 'performance illegally' and treated with cruelty.

PETA has said that the hippopotamus was forced to live a solitary life by the management of the Asiad Circus for entertaining people, far away from his parents who are in a biological park in Patna.

The petition has also sought direction to extend the role of the MoEF to frame rules for protection of exotic wild animals, including their exchange, transfer, acquisition and use, to reduce their sufferings.

It has said the animal was born in a zoo and was living with his parents and it was 'cruel to separate' him from his family and forced to live a lonely life depriving the basic social life. PTI HMP RKS RKS