Anant Ambani
Anant Ambani

Reliance-driven Vantara flourished as Indian wildlife laws weakened, says Himal report

The investigative report by Himal Southasian magazine shows that the three protections against trafficking of wild elephants – which mandated proof of heredity through DNA profiling, microchipping, and the ban on wild captures – now stand diluted.

Vantara, a global initiative by Reliance to ‘rescue’ and shelter ‘traumatised’ wild fauna in the premises of a petrochemical complex, is raising concerns about illegal sourcing of elephants aided by recent dilution of wildlife laws, says an investigative report by Himal Southasian magazine.

News outlets zoomed in on Vantara’s exquisite fauna during the three-day pre-wedding celebration of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant at Jamnagar in Gujarat in the first three days of March 2024.

TV viewers in India had a glimpse of the massive investments Reliance has made for Vantara, which means star of the forest, an initiative to rescue and conserve wild animals, when a leading TV anchor and news director was seen tasting khichdi made for the elephants from the hands of Anant Ambani.

The Himal report by M Rajshekhar shows how Anant, the youngest son of Mukesh Ambani who chairs the Rs 110 bn Reliance Industries, built the massive open zoo, which is now home to  200 elephants; over 300 large cats that include lions, tigers, and jaguars besides hundreds of herbivores.

Vantara, which is spread across 3,000 acres inside Reliance’s Jamnagar refinery complex, is also home to several rare and endangered species including the Spix’s macaw, only 200 of which remain in the world.

Vantara, an amalgam of the Radhe Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust and Greens Zoological, Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, has 3,889 birds and animals belonging to 134 species in its custody, as per its annual report for 2022–23.

Laws have banned the capture of wild elephants and the commercial sale of elephants, and anyone who owns an elephant has to prove its heredity from an already captive mother and all calves are to be microchipped. But in recent years, states like Assam – from where elephants have been transferred to Jamnagar – have witnessed a trend where juvenile and adult elephants are being microchipped shortly before applications to register their ownerships are filed.

The Himal report shows that the three protections against trafficking of wild elephants – which mandated proof of heredity through DNA profiling, microchipping, and the ban on wild captures – now stand diluted.

One of the reasons was the amendment to the 2021 Wild Life Protection Act that relaxed rules for inter-state transport of elephants “for religious or any other purpose”. The need for permits from Chief Wildlife Wardens along the route of an elephant’s transport was also done away with.

The Greens Zoological, Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre has denied any illegal transfer of elephants to their facility. “With respect to elephants, all transfers up to 1 April 2023 have been scrutinised by a Supreme Court High Powered Committee,” Greens said in a response.

Read the full report on Himal Southasian here.

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