Many supporters write to us after an abused or trafficked elephant has been saved and express to us their relief and joy at seeing the elephant start a new life. Parallel to their sense of joy of knowing the elephant is finally experiencing freedom, people also note their anger and outrage at the unimaginable suffering the animal has endured. Trying to make sense of what the elephant has gone through, the pressing question we’re often asked is, “Will the elephant’s owner go to jail?”
We usually don’t talk about the criminal court cases we are involved in because of the sensitive nature of these battles. However, we think it’s important for our supporters to know that long after an elephant is brought to our Elephant Hospital and Care center, we are often engaged in long drawn legal battles in the interest of justice for those very elephants.
Every legal matter is different and in some cases our legal team is gathering valuable evidence and submitting the details to the Forest Department or to Honourable Courts to prevent illegal traffickers from misleading the courts as they try to regain custody. Other times we are assisting the enforcement authorities to present evidence so they can prosecute the wildlife criminals and pursue criminal charges against those who have fraudulent claims of ownership, or where there is evidence of violation of laws or clear case of severe neglect and lack of veterinary care, abuse and illegal trafficking.
Quite often these legal cases go on for several years. The longest for us is approaching a decade, and it may still take a few more years to bring closure. In still another case that illustrates the lengthiness of these battles, the elephant in question has since passed away. Even though he is gone, our hope is to still honor his memory by fighting for justice on his behalf.
We agree that people need to answer for the crimes they’ve committed against these animals. But more importantly, we want to assist the authorities in implementing the wildlife protection laws that India already has in place. If illegal trafficking of elephants can be curbed through law enforcement and legal action, this can effectively bring an end to the severe abuse, cruelty and endless suffering of elephants.
In order to see meaningful reforms happen, a strong warning in the form of legal action needs to be sent to prevent poachers and traffickers from sourcing and procuring new elephants and understand that there are consequences for violating India’s wildlife protection laws where the Asian Elephant receives the highest level of protection.
That is why, regardless of the time and financial resources involved, we will continue to work with the Government Authorities to defend and protect the elephants when necessary, and provide assistance so the Forest Dept can press criminal charges against violators and law breakers whenever possible. While we all desire that the process would be swift, however, we’ve learned that we need to be both tenacious and patient in the pursuit of justice and lasting change for elephants.
Our court battles for the most part are not publicized. But you can be reassured that we are diligently pursuing justice for the Elephants. India has some of the most visionary wildlife protection laws, and used strategically, they can be a great tool for improving the situation for all of India’s wildlife. When an elephant is rescued, it is often the start of a long and complicated legal journey. One that is essential for getting justice for the past and for ensuring a more humane future.
Co-Founder and Secretary, Wildlife SOS