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Indian officials order elephants out of zoos, circuses

November 23, 2009 |  4:43 pm

Indian elephant

Animal rights advocates are heralding the decision, announced this month by officials with India's Central Zoo Authority, that the country's zoos and circuses will no longer be allowed to keep captive elephants. 

The decision means that all elephants living in India's zoos and circuses -- an estimated 140 pachyderms in 26 zoos and 16 circuses -- will be moved to "elephant camps" run by the nation's forestry department.  (Those elephants currently employed in logging camps or living in Indian temples -- by all accounts, a larger number than those in zoos and circuses -- are unaffected by the decision.)  In the camps, the elephants will be able to move freely in a large space and graze as they would in the wild. A group of mahouts will be employed to monitor their well-being.

"It's a free-roaming animal that travels a long distance, and very few zoos have large areas to provide free movement," B.K. Gupta, the zoo authority's evaluation and monitoring officer, told the Agence France-Presse of the decision to move the elephants. "The issue was with keeping them chained for long hours."

Responding to the zoo authority's announcement, In Defense of Animals director Dr. Anand Ramanathan had only good things to say about Indian officials' elephant-related policies.  But he had harsh words for their American counterparts for failing to come to the same decision about the welfare of elephants in captivity. (Notably, In Defense of Animals has been among the most vocal opponents of the L.A. Zoo's elephant exhibit; it's also been at the forefront of efforts to remove elephants from other zoos across North America.)  

For its part, PETA has announced that it will give its Proggy Award for International Leadership in the Field of Animal Rights to the Indian zoo authority for its decision to remove elephants from zoos and circuses.  The group awards its Proggys (short for "Progress") annually for animal-friendly achievements in everything from video games to automobile manufacturing to congressional voting records.

RELATED:
Lawsuit aimed at halting L.A. Zoo's construction of Pachyderm Forest exhibit can proceed
L.A. Zoo was fined following 2006 deaths of Asian elephant Gita and chimpanzee Judeo

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: An elephant crosses a railroad track along Deepor Beel, a wildlife sanctuary on the outskirts of Gauhati, India. Credit: Anupam Nath / Associated Press

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