Monday, 27 October 2014

End of the road for New Delhi’s elephants?

Life gets worse for eight working elephants remaining in Indian capital after they are forced from grazing land into crowded slum

Anu Anand in New Delhi

The Guardian, Sunday 26 October 2014 17.55 GMT

Heera the elephant has been the star attraction at many of New Delhi’s most lavish events. At weddings, the 50-year-old has been saddled with a silver howdah, his forehead and trunk decorated with pink, blue and green lotus flowers. At temples, Hindu devotees seek his blessings and feed him chapatis. And he marches in the Republic Day parade amid flags, children, tanks and fighter jets, showcasing India’s identity and pride.

“Elephants are a part of this city, a part of our culture,” said Heera’s owner, Rafiq Ahmed, whose family has kept elephants for five generations. “I’ve grown up with them and can’t imagine Delhi without them.”

But for how much longer? Just eight licensed, working elephants are left in the capital of India, down from 14 a year ago. Six were discovered missing or dead during an official inspection this summer.

New Delhi’s wildlife authorities are locked in a battle with captive elephant owners in which no one seems to be winning, least of all the elephants.

The city, citing legitimate safety concerns, has stopped the elephants living on the banks of the Yamuna river where grazing is plentiful. Instead, they now stay in a crowded slum on the city’s northern outskirts where the rubbish-strewn lanes are barely wide enough for an elephant to pass. Access to the river is two-thirds of a mile away across dual carriageways choked with traffic.

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