New Delhi: Concerned over “tremendous cruelty" endured by captive elephants, India’s nodal animal welfare body, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), has asked the environment ministry to ban the training, exhibition and use of elephants for performance.

It is estimated that India is home to about 3,600 captive elephants, and most of them are under the care of private individuals, including temples.

Animal rights activists have been repeatedly stressing on the need to improve elephants’ welfare with measures like better training for mahouts, serving more nutritious food to the animals, their veterinary care and housing facility.

The AWBI has now sent an advisory to Anil Madhav Dave-led Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) on the issue.

The advisory came after the issue was discussed during the AWBI’s general meeting in July 2016 in Chennai, where discussions centred on various inspection reports on elephants made to perform in circuses, temple festivals/events and joyrides. The board discussed the problem of captive elephants being subjected to cruelty when they are used for performances which involves training and exhibiting them as well as forcing them to perform tricks that are unnatural to them.

“It is evident that in order to protect our national heritage animal elephants should be added to the list of wild animals banned from being used in performances in India. This move is both informed and scientific and in the best interests of this species and the human," said the AWBI advisory, issued to MoEFCC in September 2016, which was reviewed by Mint.

The AWBI advised the ministry to issue a notification under the Section 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act 1960 and ban the training, exhibition and use of elephants for performance in India.

As per Section 22 of the PCA Act, no person shall exhibit or train any animal as a performing animal which the Central government may, by notification in the official gazette, specify as an animal which shall not be exhibited or trained as a performing animal.

Presently, bear, monkey, tiger, panther, lion and bull are in the list of animals that the Central government has banned from being exhibited or trained as performing animals.

A senior official of the environment ministry, who did not wish to be identified, said, “a meeting of the Central Zoo Authority is expected to take place this week wherein they would take a call on declaring captive elephants as zoo under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972".

If the decision is implemented, the move could ensure greater care and protection for captive elephants.

The global estimated population of the Asian elephant, an endangered species, is anywhere beteen 41,000 and 52,000, and of that around 29,300-30,700 elephants are in India alone, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). India started Project Elephant in 1992 to protect Asian elephants, their habitat and corridors and address man-elephant conflict.

In 2010, the Central government declared the elephant as an animal of national heritage to intensify measures for its protection.

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