I thank SS Bist for his considered response to my recent article on the proposed changes to Wildlife Protection Act. I cannot match the wealth of his experience, but for the sake of brevity, I offer the following corrections:
- Captive elephant exception: Before 2003, it may have been wrong to say that elephants are the only wild animals that can be owned. After an amendment in 2003 (Act 16 of 2003) a proviso was added to Section 40 of the Wildlife Protection Act restricting the power of the Chief Wildlife Warden to grant ownership certificates only for “live elephants”. Therefore, after 2003, only an elephant (and no other wild animal) can be privately owned. Hence the “captive elephant” exception in law. I respectfully urge Bist to apprise himself of the latest draft of the Wildlife Protection Act and correct a mistake commonly made by many.
- Regulation of elephant trade: Section 49B of the Wildlife Protection Actonly prohibits trade in articles/parts of an animal body, not the living animal itself. It does not apply to the captive elephant trade and is hence an incorrect reference. Section 43 is the operative provision that bans trade in all wild animals and articles obtained from their body. In section 43, the word “transfer” specifically refers to “sale or offer for sale or by any other mode of consideration of commercial nature” and not just mere physical transfer.
- Wildlife Amendment Act 2021: The proposed amendment, by exempting the transfer of live elephants, is an exception to both sections 43 and 49B. A clear consequence of the proposed amendment would be to legalise all future “live elephant” trade, an interpretation that has been highlighted and flagged by every leading wildlife expert in the country irrespective of their ideological leanings. To hold a contrary view would be an act of misplaced heroism.
- False logic: As per the logic extended by Bist to my example of Joymala, an elephant, can we then argue that since elephants in the wild in India are still being killed for ivory, despite a clear ban in Section 9 (on hunting) and 49B (on articles obtained from their body), it would be better to legalise this? Definitely not. A regressive legal step to control an illegal activity will not address the problem at hand, which, in this case, is the demand for more captive elephants that is only being met from the wild. (Elephants rarely breed in captivity, and when they do, the survival rate of forest camp calves is abysmally low.)
SS Bist may still disagree with me on policy, but that does not change the threat the latest amendment to Wildlife Protection Act poses to elephants, by creating loopholes for their capture and trade.
I request this conversation be read as a constructive dialogue that brings clarity, provides a correct understanding of the law and unites our common purpose to protect what is most paramount: the welfare and the rights of elephants.
Alok Hisarwala is an animal rights lawyer based in Goa.