1.) I don’t understand, I thought Wildlife SOS had legal custody of Raju. How can Mr. Shahid make claims to get him back?
Wildlife SOS was given legal custody of Raju by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department through a court order. The man who previously claimed to own him, Mr. Shahid, has now gone to the court asking Raju to be returned to him. His claim is that Raju is his property and belongs to him. We are submitting a response to the Hon’ble Court that clearly explains how Mr. Shahid was never the legal owner of Raju and he did not have any legal documents to substantiate his ownership claim.
2.) Will this go to court?
Yes, this is going to the High Court in Allahabad. This is the highest legal appellate authority in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
3.) Can’t you just buy Raju so this doesn’t need to go to court?
Buying Raju from this abuser and criminal would set a terrible precedent and could put another elephant in danger. We need to think about the hundreds of elephants we hope to help in the future.
4.) What happens if Wildlife SOS loses the battle and the high court rules in favor of Raju being returned?
If the High Court judgment is not in favor of Raju, then Wildlife SOS will approach the Supreme Court of India to appeal the order of the Allahabad High Court.
5.) Why hasn’t the ‘owner’ been charged with a crime, after all, he had illegal custody of Raju?
The owner has been charged with a crime. A case was filed against Mr. Shahid by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in July, 2013 for illegal custody of Raju. This case is currently in court and the court could issue orders for his arrest. If Mr. Shahid is found guilty and convicted, then he could be jailed for 3-7 years and imposed a fine.
6.) Is there something we can do to see that the owner is charged with animal cruelty?
Sign the petition which asks for action to be taken to bring justice for Raju and make a donation to the Raju Elephant Legal Fund.
7.) What will legal costs be for Raju?
The costs could be up to $20,000. This includes legal arguments at the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court of India if necessary. It would also include WSOS filing a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) to get a judgment to protect elephants like Raju from being returned to their cruel abusers.
8.) This has also happened with Laxmi, is this a problem faced with every elephant rescue?
It has happened now with 4 of the 11 elephants we have rescued. It is a problem that makes it difficult to proceed with rescuing elephants. However, the elephants need our help and we feel it is a risk we have to take in order to bring them the freedom they deserve. We have never lost a case till date and hope we never have to return an elephant back. We plan to strenghten our legal efforts.
9.) I heard it is illegal to own an elephant in Inida, why do these people have the power to get’ custody’ or ‘ownership’ of an elephant?
Many people like Mr. Shahid do not have legal permission to have elephants in their possession and rely on not being discovered by the Forest Department. We need implementation of the laws to ensure these people do not get away with exploiting elephants.
10.) Is Wildlife SOS incompetent, was the paperwork not filled out properly in order to prevent this from happening?
Before Raju was rescued, Wildlife SOS ensured that we had legal custody of Raju by both the courts and the Forest Department. That is why it took us awhile to intervene. So, all the necessary paperwork was filled out properly. Wildlife SOS had the proper authorities with us when we rescued Raju including law enforcement and the forest department. There is nothing that we could have done differently that would have prevented this.
11.) Is this a ploy to raise more money?
We would much prefer to use the money raised to care for the hundreds of rescued animals in our care and to help new ones that are waiting their chance for freedom and kindness. We ask for donations to help pay for these legal and court costs so the other animals in our care are not negatively impacted.
12.) Is Raju safe, can somebody come in the middle of the night and take him?
Wildlife SOS has staff at the elephant center 24 hours a day.
13.) Can Raju’s previous mahout receive the rehab package that Wildlife SOS gave to people to give up ‘dancing bears’?
In Raju’s situation, the mahout is not the one who claims to be the ‘owner’ of Raju. The mahout was employed by the owner. The owner had a history of employing ‘mahouts’ who mistreated and beat Raju. Although this isn’t an exact comparison, the best we can give is that ‘owning’ elephants is similar to ‘owning’ racehorses. Usually it is wealthier people who ‘own’ racehorses and they pay stable boys to care for them. The people who care for the horses are usually not the ones who have a lot of money. Mr. Shahid, who claims ownership of Raju, is not the mahout. Giving this mahout alternative employment will not protect Raju. Mr. Shahid would hire another cruel person to work in his place. This is a very simplistic answer but hopefully brings clarity to a very confusing situation.