The Kerala government in July rectified an error in an order which could have adversely impacted litigations involving Asian elephants in the state. The order, passed by the state Disaster Management Authority classified the elephant as a ‘domesticated animal’. This prompted wildlife activists to intervene and correct this error. The well-meaning order was issued to release Rs 5 crore to the Kerala State Animal Welfare Board director in order to feed ‘domesticated animals’ during the lockdown.
The document issued on April 15 explained that the department received ‘complaints stating the difficulty in feeding domesticated animals during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown’. As a result, it agreed to release an amount from the State Disaster Response Fund in order to feed ‘elephants and other domesticated animals’.
However, the Asian elephant commonly found in Kerala is a Schedule 1 category of protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Therefore, a letter protesting the classification of elephants as ‘domesticated animals’ was soon submitted to the department.
MN Jayachandran Nair, member of the Kerala State Animal Welfare Board, wrote the letter to the department stating that this “classification was legally incorrect and could even adversely impact many ongoing litigations involving elephants and hence must be changed”. He added that the phrasing could even influence the cases negatively and, in some instances, lead to the cases being diluted.
"In strictly legal terms, they are not domesticated but are animals in captivity or captive animals. They are not pets but are tamed using threats and force. Both of these are globally recognised terms. So interchanging them could change the nature of many cases involving these animals in the state," Jayachandran tells TNM.
Taking cognisance of the argument, a fresh order was issued by the Disaster Management department stating that the ‘elephants and other domesticated animals’ has not been rephrased to ‘elephants under private ownership and domesticated animals’ in the order. As per the current laws governing wildlife in India, elephants cannot be bought or sold. Their ownership can only be transferred via inheritance.
"Most of the elephants now, including those owned by temples, are illegal. Their owners may not have ownership certificates as since 2003, when the Declaration of Wildlife Stock rules were framed, the government stopped giving ownership certificates. It was no longer to acquire elephants," Jayachandran says, adding that referring to the elephant as domesticated could impact cases of illegal ownership also.