By Merril Diniz:
A few weeks back, with a mixture of heartbreak and hope, I wrote a piece about the institutionalised abuse and violation of elephants in India in circuses, zoos, places of worship, for begging and general entertainment. I ended the piece on a note of hope, as at the time rescue and rehabilitation organisation, Wildlife SOS had just rescued four severely abused and battered elephants Goldie, Sylvia, Pearl and Ruby, from the Rambo Circus in Pune. It was a tough rescue, as circus personnel were upset at the prospect of losing their animals, even though it is illegal to abuse performing animals in the circus.
Come to be known as the #PreciousFour, the plan was to transport them by road to the organisation’s sanctuary in Agra, which hosts 22 rescued elephants, including 52-year-old Raju, who made international headlines in 2014, for shedding tears, as soon as he understood he was being rescued. Due to the poor state of their health, however, the elephants were held in a temporary shelter in Pune, where they could be attended to medically, until they were strong enough to travel the distance to Agra (Watch their dramatic rescue here).
But in a cruel twist of fate, the Pune courts, have ordered the four to be returned to the circus. The Circus claimed in court that the notice filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) had not been sent to the correct postal address. There was no substantial documentation to refute the Circus’ claim during the argument, and after an eight-hour standoff with Wildlife SOS, the Rambo Circus seized all four elephants today (June 23, 2016).
52-year-old Goldie, the oldest of the lot, is blind. Her daughter, Sylvie, has been severely traumatised due to years of abuse. The other two – Pearl and Ruby – are extremely close and inseparable. All four are ailing from years of abuse and all four were just about showing signs of recovery – both psychologically, and physically.
The irony is that while the court order states that the circus may use the animals for performances while not subjecting them to cruelty, the fact is that elephants cannot be made to perform tricks without subjecting them to beatings and constant prodding. Rambo Circus, of course, denies abusing the elephants. But the proof can be seen on the bodies of these pachyderms, who have injuries on their legs, rotting footpads, overgrown toenails, severe debilitation, wounds on their mouths and swelling from circus beatings. They are chained 24/7 often in their own faeces and urine, in spike chains.
Wildlife SOS has now posted a petition on Change.org asking Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, to use his powers under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and other relevant laws to take action. “On behalf of Lord Ganesh, please show mercy,” reads the petition.
Incidentally, it was the Maharashtra government itself, which facilitated the rescue, along with the support of the Animal Welfare Board of India. In less than 24 hours, the petition has gathered almost 20,000 signatures, and people the world over are expressing their outrage and disappointment in the court’s decision.
The court order and subsequent seizing of the elephants is a major blot on India’s recent track record in the area of wildlife conservation, rescue and rehabilitation. The dancing bear tradition ground to a halt, when people in the profession, surrendered their bears and were rehabilitated into other professions. Tiger numbers are also up, and animal rescues and rehabilitation is happening on a daily basis by forest officials, NGOs and regular people.
On a different note, internationally, most circuses are changing the very character of their entertainment, by doing away with acts performed by animals. This practice has not only stopped the exploitation of animals, but has made life less stressful for the human performers, as getting wild animals to perform is no easy task. It involves entrapment, physical abuse and also increases the risk of accidents. In short, it takes a certain amount of dehumanising to make this cycle of evil, work.
At this critical juncture, the #PreciousFour need your support. Let’s not allow them to return to their former existence, which is nothing short of “hellish”. You can do your bit by signing and commenting on this petition, inviting others to sign and voicing your concerns on social media.
Let’s stand together and raise our voices against this grave miscarriage of justice!
All photos shared by Wildlife SOS.