Shower time: All of seven, Ramu enjoys his shampoo routine at Birsa zoo in this May photograph
Birsa zoo in Ormanjhi has jumbo reasons to rejoice. Its awesome threesome — Samrat, Ramu and Lakhi — isn’t going anywhere anymore.
The Central Zoo Authority (CZA), which sent a review team to Ranchi on Saturday, is likely to exempt the facility sprawling over a satisfying 104 hectares on the outskirts of the capital from the elephant ban.
In November 2009, the CZA had come up with a nationwide directive banning elephants from being kept in cramped zoos and ordering their rehabilitation in national parks, tiger reserves or elephant camps instead. The idea was to offer the gentle giants an almost natural habitat. Manmade confines are known to cause stress to large animals, hampering their normal growth and breeding.
Following chief wildlife warden A.K. Malhotra’s orders, a heartbroken Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park had agreed to send 10-year-old Lakhi and seven-year-old Ramu to Betla National Park in Palamau and 14-year-old Samrat to Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary in East Singhbhum.
A little more than a month ago, a mahout from Dalma also arrived at Birsa zoo to prepare the trio for their “deportation”. But, in the meantime, unhappy zoo authorities knocked on CZA door.
In a letter, they reasoned that Birsa zoo — home to 1,200 animals and birds of more than 60 species — had adequate room for the young elephants. They said an elephant needed to trek around 10km daily and the zoo’s 104 hectares were more than sufficient. Besides, the zoo boasts water bodies where the animals could make a splash bath as well as an equipped veterinary clinic.
The zoo authorities also reasoned that Samrat, Ramu and Lakhi had spent their childhood in captivity — either at the zoo or elsewhere — and might find it difficult to acclimatise in the wild.
They are an inseparable threesome. Samrat was rescued from a circus at the age of two and is, currently, the centre of attraction at Birsa zoo. Lakhi was rescued from Bero a couple of years ago, while Ramu has been at the zoo since he was only three.
To verify these claims, a two-member team — elephant expert from Assam Dr K.K. Sharma and Compassion Unlimited Plus Action member Suparna Ganguly — toured the zoo on Saturday.
“The team was highly impressed with our facilities. It seemed convinced with the argument that we have enough space to support elephants. The members also acknowledged that the ban was for zoos that are cramped. They categorically said we have ample room in comparison,” a zoo official said.
A formal exemption letter from the CZA may take some time because the team will present its report to the Union ministry of forest and environment in October. But, it is learnt that the chief wildlife warden has put the marching orders for Samrat, Ramu and Lakhi on hold after a meeting with the visiting team.
Zoo director P.K. Verma said they were hoping for positive results. “Jharkhand is known for its elephants and a zoo is a place for education and awareness, besides recreation. Moreover, we can take care of elephants. The CZA team will speak in our favour,” piped in another zoo official.
He added that experts had even suggested a calf-rearing centre at Birsa zoo to take care of young rescued elephants. “A centre is coming up in Dalma, but the CZA team wanted us to set up our own. A proposal will take formal shape soon.”