Alipore zoo is set to shift the youngest of its three elephants to a north Bengal wildlife hub after winter because of lack of space.
The Central Zoo Authority guidelines, issued in 2009, ban elephants in zoos.
City zoo officials, however, have been trying over the past four years to persuade the authority to allow them to keep the three grown-up elephants, two of which have been part of of the zoo for a dozen-odd years.
The Delhi-based body finally agreed to consider Alipore zoo as an exception and told the officials that they could keep a maximum of two elephants if they expanded the 3,000sq m enclosure by at least three times.
Following the relaxation of norm, the zoo decided to send 19-year-old Uttara — the youngest of the trio — to South Khayerbari Rescue Centre, part of the Jaldapara forest in Jalpaiguri.
“We tried our best to keep all the elephants but the central authority has finally allowed us to keep only two, and that too if we increase the space of the elephant enclosure from 3,000 to 9,000sq m. After one of the elephants is shifted, we will increase the enclosure space,” said a senior official of Alipore zoo. “The elephant will be moved some time between February and March next year.”
On September 2009, the Central Zoo Authority had issued a guideline saying all elephants in zoos and circuses have to be moved to wildlife parks and sanctuaries. The order followed complaints from animal rights activists about elephants being kept in captivity and chained for long hours.
“The zoo environment is very restrictive for animals. Since the order was issued, most of the zoos in India have been made to release their elephants. But we had to make an exception in case of Alipore zoo. We will allow them to keep two elephants, provided they increase the size of the elephant enclosure,” said B.S. Bonal, member-secretary, Central Zoo Authority.
Other than Uttara, the elephants at the zoo are Mumtaz, 24, and Phulwanti, 21. While Phulwanti and Mumtaz were brought to the zoo in 2001, Uttara came in 2005. The Emami group has adopted Phulwanti from October 2013 to September 2014 for an upkeep fee of Rs 5 lakh.
The current elephant enclosure — with a moat, a shed and trees — was inaugurated in 1999 by then chief minister Jyoti Basu. Before that elephants used to remain chained in an enclosure one-tenth the size of the current one.
Asked when the enclosure will be expanded, zoo director Kanailal Ghosh said: “It may take some time as it depends on the release of funds.”
“Uttara had developed a cordial relationship with its trainer. She is the most cheerful among the trio. Initially, it had trouble mixing with the two senior elephants, but with time Mumtaz and Phulwanti started taking good care of her,” said a zookeeper.
Transporting the 2,400kg Uttara will be no easy task. “We will have to construct a ramp to transport the elephant to a truck, and also make arrangements for her safe transit to the Jaldapara forest 710km away,” said an official.
Incidentally, a six-month-old elephant brought to the zoo from Danton in West Midnapore in February 2010 died within two months. Apparently, it had suffered a leg injury while travelling the distance and never recovered.