Last month, a video by a man named V Shaji from Kollam claimed that he had brought around 200 elephants from different states to Kerala and had traded them over the last few years. Animal rights activists quickly stepped in and said the elephants were traded illegally. They also filed an RTI with the Forest Department and confirmed that no elephants had been legally brought into the state.
After the video went viral, a team of forest officials conducted searches in Kollam, Pathanamthitta and Mavelikara, and captured 15 elephants which were traded illegally. A case was registered against five people, including Shaji. The case has also shed light on the possibility of an organised 'mafia' operating in the state.
"Bringing elephants from other states, even if they are captive, is not legal. If they are brought for any reason, they should have proper papers from both states. They need prior permission from the chief wildlife warden. Buying and selling elephants was prohibited in 2004. One can only get an elephant as inherent property," M N Jayachandran, a member of the Kerala state animal welfare board, told TNM.
In the video, Shaji had claimed that he brought around 200 elephants from Assam, Bihar and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The accused were booked under the Wildlife Protection Act and sections of the captive elephant management rules. Meanwhile, another case was filed against AV Prashanth of Peroorkada in October, for illegal trade of elephants. This is for allegedly buying an elephant that was brought illegally from Uttar Pradesh.
However, though cases were registered, none of the accused have been arrested yet.
While the investigation is underway, Elephant Owners Association President G Krishnaprasad issued a complaint to the ministry, alleging that they were being targeted. After this, the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department under-secretary issued an order to stop all action against elephant owners of Kerala until the ministry received a report on the same. Later on the same day, the chief wildlife warden filed a detailed report to the ministry. Activists staged protests in this regard, following which the order was withdrawn by the government.
In the chief wildlife wardenâ€™s report, it is mentioned that Shaji and Prasanth are members of an 'organised mafia', as reported by The Hindu. The reports suggest that they have been doing this for many years.
Activists also allege that there is a â€˜mafiaâ€™ functioning in the illegal trading of elephants and elephant husks in the state.
"We have given a number of complaints regarding this to the wildlife department. No action was taken on any of them. We have given many complaints against Prashanth. In his house compound in Peroorkada, there are many elephants, which are not cared for properly. We are sure that if the officials dig up his land and conduct an inspection, you will find the mortal remains of many elephants in his compound," A A Aneesh, Aana Utsava Samrakshana Sangam, a group for protection of elephants based on Thrissur, alleged.
He alleged that there is a â€˜mafiaâ€˜ functioning in the state who threatens anybody who reports on illegal elephant trade.
"Recently, they took around Rs 80 lakh from a person in return for an elephant calf. Later, they gave him an aged elephant which died in a week. The person asked for his money back. Now, they are threatening him and even filed a fake case against him, which led to his arrest. This is how they function. We also regularly receive threats," Aneesh alleges.
He adds, "As far as we know, people get elephants from other states for less than Rs 20 lakh. They sell it here for around Rs 1 crore. This elephant takes part in various events in the state where, within a year, the owner gets the money he spent. This is how the business works. What we should remember is that the elephant is a wild animal protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act."
MN Jayachandran alleges that this trade happens with the knowledge of many authorities. "There was an order to stop action against the accused, which shows why this happens here. The department knows that this illegal trade is happening. The chief wildlife warden took action against the culprit. Then the order stopped it, which is the reason for this â€˜mafia'sâ€˜ growth. There is a â€˜mafiaâ€™ involved and that is how they have brought so many elephants from other states," he adds.