New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) Zoos that can't provide enough space and proper facilities for the upkeep of elephants - one of the star attractions at the zoological parks - may not be able to retain them and will have to relocate them to other zoos or wildlife sanctuaries better equipped to handle their welfare.
The proposal was made at a meeting of the consultative committee of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) last week that assessed the condition of elephants in zoos across the country and found that wanting.
The final decision on the re-location will soon be taken by Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, a committee member told IANS.
"Elephants are kept chained for long hours in zoos due to lack of space for them to move. Some zoos don't even have the required manpower to take care of them," said the member, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The condition of elephants is really bad in some zoos and the meeting was held in this context. All members unanimously agreed to shift elephants from zoos with poor facilities," he added.
The member said a team of experts will identify such zoos and the jumbos will be shifted to other zoos that have enough space and staff for their upkeep.
"Another option that was proposed was to send them to elephant centres in wildlife sanctuaries across the country," he added.
Twenty-three zoos across the country house over 80 Indian and African elephants.
In 2009, the CZA had issued a similar advisory stopping zoos from inducting more elephants and called for rehabilitating jumbos that needed looking after in rescue centres after it became known that their conditions were bad.
Although zoos have stopped inducting elephants, many still house them in poor conditions.
According to Brij Kishor Gupta, the CZA's evaluation and monitoring officer, some of the elephants that needed urgent assistance have already been re-located.
"We have shifted around 30 elephants from zoos to various rescue centres and elephant centres in wildlife sanctuaries since 2009," Gupta told IANS.
Sources said if the proposal gets a go-ahead, it will be carried out in a phased manner.
The CZA will assess which zoos are capable of keeping elephants and which are not. The elephants that need urgent rehabilitation will either be moved to another zoo or to a rescue centre.
Gupta, however, cautioned that the process of re-locating the elephants should be smooth, keeping in mind the availability of facilities and capacity in rescue centres.
"We don't want a situation where we send them to rescue centres without proper facilities. In zoos, they at least get food and medical aid from a veterinary doctor," he said.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has taken the shifting suggestion with a pinch of salt.
"Many zoos are illegally keeping elephants despite having poor facilities to attract crowds. It is a good step but a deadline should be fixed to move all elephants out of such zoos," Poorva Joshipura, PETA's chief functionary, told IANS.
(Richa Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)