Published by N.V.K. Ashraf and Kadambari Mainkar, 01 Dec 2004
An Occasional Report of a Captive Wildlife Welfare division activity conducted by Wildlife Trust of India
Sonpur is the largest cattle fair of Asia. It is also the largest legal market for elephants in India. Clandestinely, it is a venue for illegal trade, though the sale of elephants has declined precipitously over the years (99 elephants in 2001 to 67 in 2004). It is remarkable that for almost its entire recorded history, no attention has been given to providing health facilities at this, the largest traditional congregation of elephants in the country. Set up for commerce, welfare always took a back seat and it was only now hundreds of years after the practice first originated, that a health camp has been set up at Sonpur. As is seen in this report, an analytical one involving four years of observation, welfare still continues to be a concern. Though the health of the elephants is becoming more of a concern to the owners, their welfare is still not a priority. In this land where the elephant is still holy and where welfare and respect of all life is enshrined in the ethics of the people, its treatment of elephants still beggars belief. It is by chipping away assiduously at the tradition of negligence (malevlent cruelty is still not a majority Indian practice) that welfare of elephants in captivity can be realised. For an animal as social and intelligent as an elephant, any captivity can be soul destroying. However, with subtle changes in husbandry and care, this can be made a little more tolerable.
The efforts of the WTI and IFAW teams at Sonpur aim to do exactly this. They intend to be where the action is, to learn more by observing and to act, while there, by providing care to the individuals who come to Sonpur. Also, the data collected and analysed would allow even more sweeping policy changes that could benefit captive elephants, not only at Sonpur, but also across the Indian landscape.
Wildlife Trust of India.
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