Following the recommendation of the committee constituted by the Project Elephant Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and requests made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India to implement the committee report, the Rajasthan Forest Department directed the Department of Archaeology and Museums to stop the use of 20 medically unfit elephants for tourist rides at Amer Fort. Per the order, the medically unfit elephants include three who tested positive for tuberculosis (TB), those suffering from impaired vision and chronic foot problems, and old and malnourished animals.
The central government committee – which was constituted per a 6 March 2020 order of the Supreme Court of India and includes the senior wildlife veterinary officer of Jaipur Zoo – also incorporated recommendations made by PETA India in its report, which proposed phasing out elephant rides at Amer Fort by replacing them with electric vehicle rides, citing aging elephants and tourists’ declining preference for these rides. Subsequently, PETA India collaborated with leading design company Desmania Design to create a modern electric vehicle – “Maharaja” – and submitted a formal proposal to the Rajasthan government for its consideration and implementation.
“We commend the immediate steps taken by the Rajasthan government to stop the use of some of the aging, ailing elephants identified by the expert committee,” says PETA India Chief Advocacy Officer Khushboo Gupta. “We hope that while implementing the rest of the committee’s recommendations, the government will also provide tourists with an opportunity to receive royal treatment with the majestic, cutting-edge electric cars PETA India has proposed, which can completely replace cruel elephant rides.”
The committee’s report notes that of the 98 captive elephants inspected, 22 suffer from impaired vision resulting from corneal opacity and cataracts and 42 have chronic foot problems, including overgrown nails and flat footpads from walking on concrete roads. Twenty-nine elephants were found to be above the age of 50 years, which is the average lifespan of an elephant in captivity. Two out of three elephants who tested positive for TB – a potentially fatal zoonotic disease of public health concern – were confirmed reactive to TB tests conducted by the Animal Welfare Board of India in 2018, too. The committee also recommended in its report that elephants and mahouts be screened for TB twice a year.
PETA India – whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” – is an intervener in the Supreme Court matter on captive elephants, and the court’s order to appoint a committee was based on concerns raised by the group about cruelty to elephants and the apparently illegal use of them for rides and other activities at Amer Fort and Elephant Village near Jaipur.