After 3 decades, elephant Laxmi is moved out of Delhi

Shivam Patel
Laxmi was reported missing on July 6 after its mahout fled with it, triggering a nationwide alert. (Praveen Khanna)

Delhi’s last domesticated elephant, which went missing more than two months ago, was rescued by Delhi Police from Yamuna Khadar near Akshardham in East Delhi a little after midnight Wednesday. This comes a day after The Indian Express reported that the elephant had been in the national capital all along, even as a country-wide alert was sent out in July and a search operation launched to find it.

A police team under DCP (East) Jasmeet Singh Wednesday traced the elephant and arrested its mahout, Saddam, around 12.30 am Wednesday. A caretaker named Andra, who was with Saddam, was also brought to the police station but not arrested.

An officer from the Shakarpur police station said, We received a tip-off that they were hiding in a forested area and a team of officers in plainclothes went there. They surrounded them so they couldn t escape. We brought the elephant here on foot and kept it in an open space in our premises.

Laxmi, who is 37 years old and was brought to Delhi around three decades ago, was given a night-time snack of grass after being rescued, followed by bananas for breakfast and sugarcane for lunch.

It had been missing since July 6, when the elephant s mahout fled with it to evade Delhi wildlife officials, who had gone to seize it from the banks of the Yamuna near ITO. In a police complaint, the wildlife department had alleged its officers were attacked by members of the family taking care of the elephant. Police are currently looking for Yusuf Ali, who claims to be the elephant’s owner.

When The Indian Express had met Ali on Monday, he was with the elephant. After the incident on July 6, we went into hiding. I hid Laxmi in the forests near the banks of the Yamuna for a few days while I kept shifting homes, staying with my relatives here, he had claimed.

Earlier in the morning on Wednesday, authorities had trouble getting Laxmi into a truck as it refused to go inside. Wildlife officials said this was because the mahout, Saddam, was not cooperating with them.

Saddam has been charged under IPC sections 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), police said.

On Wednesday, the wildlife department was partly relieved after Laxmi was boarded on to a truck, which would take it to Ban Santour elephant rehabilitation centre in Haryana. Authorities said they are hoping for a smooth journey and arrival at the destination.

A forest department officer said, This is for its own good. It will get to be in its natural habitat with many companions to communicate and spend time with.

Around 20 quintals of sugarcane and drums of water have been loaded on to the truck to cover for Laxmi’s journey to Haryana. Authorities expect to start around 11 pm Wednesday and reach Ban Santour in six or more hours after covering a distance of around 250 kilometres.

We have to drive really slowly and not press the brake at all and avoid bumps so that the elephant is not disturbed. At night there s usually less noise and traffic and therefore we chose that time. We will give a mild calming agent so it will be relaxed during the journey, an official said.

Meanwhile, Shazeeb Ali, a member of the family that was taking care of Laxmi, said they would approach the Delhi High Court against the seizure and relocation of the elephant.

Mahboob Ali, another member of the family, alleged the elephant was goaded with an ankus, a tool for handling elephants, when officials were trying to get it into a truck from the police station, which injured it and caused it to bleed.

An officer from the wildlife department did not comment on the allegations, but said, Such minor injuries are for the larger good.

On Laxmi s trail

Jan 2016 Wildlife panel finds poor housing, health condition of Delhi s six elephants, owners told to surrender animals

Apr 2017 Owners move HC, it directs re-inspection of sites

Oct 2018 3 elephants, Chandani, Gangaram, Dhonmati, relocated to Gujarat

Mar-Apr 2019 Hiragaj and Moti shifted to Rajasthan and Haryana

July 1 Haryana wildlife department approves relocation of Laxmi to Ban Santour

July 6 Mahout flees with Laxmi, wildlife department on trail. Nationwide hunt on

Sep 17 The Indian Express reports Yusuf Ali, who claims to own Laxmi, never left Delhi with the animal

Sep 18 Laxmi traced and sent to Haryana