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The Wild Side – Where’s the Eco-Tourism

The ‘wild side Wheres the ‘eco in eco-tourism?

Eco-tourism’ and ‘wild-life’ tourism are now in, but they have their own inherent and hidden dangers. If eco-tourism suffers from ‘green-washing’, where just a few token actions count for ‘eco-tourism’; wildlife tourism is even more destructive, giving unnatural proximity to wildlife.

In a startling revelation, Daulat Singh Rajawat, former general secretary of Tourist Guide Federation of India, (TGFI) disclosed that 20 out the 117 elephants that ferry tourists to the famous Amber Fort in Jaipur were blind. Adding to the cruelty by the tourist trade is the fact that these elephants were kept captive and tied up in the hot sun of Jaipur for hours. Singh also charged that the mahouts employed have no knowledge of handling elephants. Not even a single mahout who handles the elephants has credentials to operate pachyderms. It was not long back that an elephant that went berserk killed a tourist escort in the fort premises. This is not just one case of mistreatment of animals in the name of animal tourism. Tourist attractions involving animals are steeped in abuse and cruelty.

Animal safaris - elephants, camels and horses 

According to a report by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Camels used for “Safaris” in Rajasthan and Gujarat are shamefully underfed, overloaded and overworked. In a shocking incident reported by the BBC, misadventure by a tourist led to the death of a camel. In addition, often camel races are held in which camels are goaded to outrun each other.

In Rajasthan, elephant safaris are not only promoted to take tourists to the Nahargarh sanctuary, but these animals are also used in fairs and polo matches. They have no access to water (an elephant needs to drink over 150 litres of water in a day) and are not fed well even remotely. They are poked and prodded by the cruel ‘Ankush and beaten up with sticks to ensure that they listen to their handlers. This frustration can lead to aggression, risking the lives of tourists and handlers alike. This rebellion results in deaths, often of their mahouts, sometimes of innocent bystanders. Also if a tourist is harmed or killed by an elephant frustrated from living in chains, the tourism industry would be affected in a negative way. In Kerala, many elephant handlers or mahouts and onlookers have died when the elephants have gone out of control during parades.

Even horse rides, often sponsored by the government, are cruel as horses are frequently kept in filthy stables, covered in waste, then overloaded with people and their luggage and forced to cover long distances in hot weather, being whipped all the time to make them walk. Many tourists walk away from the experience feeling only pity for the animals and regret for having witnessed such unkind treatment.

Hosting animal fights 

Hosting animal fights, including cock fights are banned in India, yet, it is common in the states of Kerala and Punjab. Pigeon fights are still common in Lucknow. Bull fighting, common in Tamil Nadu during Pongal festivities, is no better. Organising of animal fights is unlawful and anybody who participates in them via promotion or otherwise are equally liable to be punished under the law. Indeed animal fighting in India is a national embarrassment as it leaves animals in their own pool of blood and it should certainly not be promoted for tourism. Says NG Jayasimha, Advocate Bombay High Court and a campaign manager with PETA “Instead of promoting animal tourism, focus should be on cultural sports or other non-animal entertainment or activities, such as, the Periyar Tiger Reserve jungle treks which allows tourists to participate in a guided walk. Others like “Eco-Tourism” in which animals are viewed in their natural homes should be promoted to as a part of animal tourism.

Giant truths

Elephants are social creatures. In the wild, the females live in close-knit family groups. They spend about 18 hours per day walking, feeding, bathing in waterholes and interacting with the other elephants. They are intelligent and sensitive animals that have been known to mourn the loss of a relative, just as humans do. Elephants suffer in captivity because they are prevented from engaging in their natural activities.

  •  India is home to more than 50% of the wild elephant population and about 20% of the captive elephant population of Asia. A survey by Project Elephant in 2000 found a total of 3,400 domesticated elephants—2,540 privately owned 190 in temples, 480 in forest departments, 80 in zoos and 110 in circuses.
  •  Today, about 700 elephants are in captivity across the state of Kerala—about 260 with the Devaswoms (temples) and 440 individually owned.
  •  Elephants at temples are traditionally kept shackled with chains attached to a front and behind leg. They can lie down, but only with difficulty, and they can move only about 1 metre forward and backward. In the wild, elephants range over a living space of approximately 200 square kilometres.
  •  Many elephants are forced to travel many kilometres between temples during the festival season from January through May.
  •  Elephants can be the source of zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis.

Captivating Facts

There have been a number of incidents involving captive elephants who have run amok and injured themselves, their mahouts, other elephants and members of the public.

  •  23 April 2008: During a temple festival in Kerala, a male elephant went out of control and killed three people.
  •  6 February 2008: An elephant named Choorakkottukavu Ayyappa Das died in Thrissur. The elephant had broken the restraining chains and uprooted three coconut trees.
  •  12 April 2007: During an elephant show at Chettuva School near Thrissur District in Kerala, an elephant killed the mahout and injured 24 people.
  •  31 March 2007: An elephant named Avittathore Murali Krishnan died at Kumbalam near Kochi after a grievous fall as he was being loaded onto a lorry for transportation after a parade at a temple festival.

Law and amendments made in this direction

According to the Section 39 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, all wild animals (including elephants) which are listed in the Schedules are government property. Hunting or captivating these animals is in violation of the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act. Under Section 42 of the Act it is incumbent upon the Chief Wildlife Warden to ensure that an applicant has adequate facilities for housing, maintenance and upkeep of the animals as stipulated under the recognition of Zoo Rules prior to the issuance of the ownership certificate. But it is well known that most of the animals do not have adequate facilities for housing, maintenance and proper upkeep.

Section 38H of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 also declares that no zoo – including circuses, per Section 2(39) – shall be operated without being recognised by the Central Zoo Authority. But many such zoos who can not even meet proper housing needs of the animals in captivation are still operational in India.

Performing Animal (Registration) Rule—As per Performing Animal Rules, 2001, framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, Rule 3 of the Act said rules prohibits any person from training or exhibiting a performing animal unless the animal has been registered with the prescribed authority, as appointed under the said rules. An owner who makes an animal perform without registration is committing an offence punishable under Section 38(3) of the said Act. But the fact is that hardly any animal that is seen performing is registered under the said rules. As per law, such owners are liable to be prosecuted.

What should the Ministry of Tourism do?

The Ministry of Tourism Development must ensure that animal cruelty is not patronized at tourist destination. India is known for its patronage of the concept of non-violence, and we must ensure that the guests to this country do not go back disillusioned. Tourists, especially from the West, are extremely sensitive to the mistreatment of animals. Many participate in attractions only to discover animals that are malnourished, trained and handled in abusive ways, and, forced to live in dismal, barren conditions. This situation is not only a nightmare for captive animals, it also challenges our countries reputation as a vacation destination.

There are hundreds of laws for the protection of animals in India. The main laws are the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and Rules framed under these Acts. Few people and even fewer policemen are aware of theses laws.

Consumers can stop hiding behind such ignorance

1. Contact local humane societies, SPCA or animal shelters to investigate and take action in cases of cruelty seen. If not available, ask the local Police Station for help in enforcing the law - giving the officer a concise, factual, written statement of cruel acts seen, with dates and approximate time. Photographs (dated) are very useful. Keep a record of the names of people contacted, and photocopy all your evidences before handing papers to officials. If they are non-coperative, present the documents to their supervisors, and if necessary to the local government officials (e.g. MLA) and ask them to act.

2. If you yourself have witnessed the cruel act, ask the local Police Officer to get a Warrant issued by the Magistrate to summon the accused to the Court. Expert opinion from a veterinarian is vital in the most cases. Inform officers that you have expert support. If there is an SPCA branch in your area, lodge a written complaint with them, and take Inspectors to the site. Police of sub-Inspector rank and above have power to enter a place where animal crime is suspected - to collect evidence (Oral, documentary, or articles), provided they have a search warrant issued by one of the authorities mentioned in Section 33 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960.

3. A written order by an Authority to an Officer (Writ petition can be a powerful tool in righting animals wrongs. Article 226 of the Constitution confers on every High Court the power to issue writs, including that of mandamus (i.e. command) demanding action from the addressee. It applies to any authority, officer, or person who is duty bound by law to take certain action, but refuses to do so.

4. The Supreme Court has made it mandatory for the police to register First Information Reports (FIR).

5. Wild birds such as Munias, Parakeets, Peacocks, Weaverbirds, Koel, Mynahs, and Owls are often seen in the markets. These are protected species, whose capture is totally forbidden. Under the Wild Life Protection Act 1972 (WPA), anyone in charge of captive wild animals or birds is guilty of the serious crime of ‘Hunting, and liable to imprisonment up to three years. The citizen in this case can lodge an FIR in the nearest Police Station and request the deputed Senior Police Officer to accompany to the scene of the crime immediately, lest trader and birds escape.

6. Harming Zoo animals is an offence under Section 38J of the WPA, which prohibits teasing, molesting, injuring, or feeding any animal, or causing disturbance by noise or littering the zoo grounds. These offences carry imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine up to Rs. 2000 and are cognizable. Citizens can be thus arrested in all the cases. The Zoo Director should also be immediately informed to take the necessary action under Wildlife Protection Act. If, conversely, a Government Zoo is badly run, one can take legal action with the evidences. A writ petition may be filed in the High Court seeking directions against the Zoo in question. The Court can also issue directions to the Central Zoo Authority to ensure the violating Zoos future compliance with all rules.

7. The Government of India has further prohibited performance of Bares, Monkeys, Tigers, Panthers, and Lions. Therefore it is illegal to make these animals perform on the streets or in circus.

Khushboo Jain
The author is a freelance journalist

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