Elephants — long revered in India as symbols of wisdom and good fortune — are no longer allowed in Mumbai.
The state government has banned domesticated elephants from India’s largest city, saying that forcing the animals to walk the city’s chaotic, crowded and polluted streets was an act of cruelty.
“We want to keep the poor elephants off city roads. It is sad to see them walking with traffic going past,” said Shree Bhagwan, a senior official in the Maharashtra state forestry department.
The ban, India’s first, took effect last week, Bhagwan said.
Before the ban, 14 elephants worked in Mumbai. They begged for their handlers, participated in religious ceremonies or became status symbols at weddings.
Elephants often plodded along crowded promenades or suburban beaches, collecting money with their trunks. Caparisoned elephants with colorful sequined parasols would stand outside wedding halls, surrounded by band members playing brash music.
The state government issued the ban after animal rights activists said the elephants were not properly fed, and suffered skin and foot ailments from being forced to walk on scorching roads.
When not working, the elephants were chained to posts and unable to move. Most lived under busy highway overpasses.
'A step in the right direction'
Activists welcomed the ban, but said the government did not adequately arrange for the evicted elephants.
“It would have been ideal to build rescue centers first and then issue the ban,” said N. Jayasimha, a lawyer with the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. “But the order is positive and a step in the right direction.”
Police were forced to release an elephant handler arrested after the ban went into effect because there was no way to look after the elephant, which spent five hours chained outside the police station.
The 13-year-old elephant named Laxmi and her handler went free after he signed a statement promising to take the animal out of the city, said police officer P. Gaitonde.
Bhagwan said the government plans to build a rehabilitation center in the Nashik forests, about 125 miles northeast of Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay.
Some 3,600 tamed elephants live in India, including some 1,000 in northeastern Assam state, where they work in logging.