Moved rapidly on marine mammal exhibition, cattle transport, & wild-caught bird trade
NEW DELHI––Contrary to Press Trust of India and New Zealand Press Association reports of October 7, Indian minister for social justice and empowerment Maneka Gandhi did not ban animal experiments in India effective on October 8, 1998 but she did announce draft regulations to ban the use of pound animals in biomedical research, and on October 11, 1998 published a ban on certain uses of animals in entertainment.
By October 31, 1998, Maneka had also banned the import of dolphins and sea lions for exhibition in India, after two bottlenose dolphins brought from Bulgaria died suddenly at the newly opened Dolphin City oceanarium, India s first, near Chennai; banned cattle transport by train, hoping to end the export of cattle to slaughter in West Bengal; and banned the transport of poultry and other birds by train, striking at the wild-caught bird traffic.
The major markets in India for wild-caught birds are among the urban Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, and Jain devout, who buy and release caged wild birds as an intended symbolic kindness. Few of the birds, however, survive the capture and transport, and fewer still return to their native habitat.
Maneka’s crackdown on animal use in entertainment was her latest of many attempts to enforce the intent of a 1980 ban on animal street shows. In 1990, as minister for environment and forests, Maneka unsuccessfully ordered that some 250 bears, 2,000 monkeys, 1,000 mongooses, and 10,000 snakes should be confiscated from street shows, for rehabilitation and return to the wild.
Ousted from that position, and from membership in the Janata Dal party, after she forcefully denounced corruption, Maneka next sought enforcement through the courts.
The ban Maneka announced on October 8, forbidding the exhibition and training of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, and lions, is actually the final outcome, we hope, of a lawsuit Maneka initiated in the early 1990s, said Blue Cross of India vice chair S. Chinny Krishna.
But even with Maneka s proclamation pending, a judge ordered the Children s Park zoo in Chennai, to return a sloth bear to trainer Raja Sab, of Bellary, Karnataka, from whom two bears were seized last summer. Perhaps the bear sensed change coming in his favor: he reportedly refused to go with Sab, who eventually left without him.
The other bear is still at the Vandalur Zoo in Chennai.
The World Society for Animal Protection estimated in 1997 that about 100 sloth bears cubs are illegally taken from the wild each year to be trained to dance.
Maneka’s ban drew further impetus from the 1997 rescue by the Mumbai activist group Ahimsa of six blind lionesses from the Great Golden Circus.
Upon examining them, Ahimsa general secretary Satnam Ahuja told Times of India reporter Lina Choudhury, we deduced that the metal spikes routinely used to train the animals had hit them on the eyes.
Krishna, an electrical engineer, was among the two representatives of the humane community named to a federal scientific panel which is to review the proposed pound seizure ban. Meeting for the first time on November 3, the panel is to report to the government with recommendations by December 3.
The other humane representative on the scientific panel was to be appointed by Maneka from within the Welfare Ministry.
Also on the panel are to be the director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences; the chief advisor for the Department of Biotechnology; India Veterinary Research Institute director Izat Nagar; S.C. Pathak of the Department of Surgery and Radiology at the Assam Agricultural University; and Central Drug Research Institute consultant K.R. Bhardwaj.
The draft regulations focus on a two-paragraph prohibition of pound seizure, which would apply to an estimated 200 animal research facilities.
Krishna said that as proposed, “It is the same act that we have tried to get the Madras municipal corporation to accept for the last 25 years. The Madras pound was and is handing over many dogs every day to government laboratories. I gave a copy of this draft regulation to the corporation commission,” Krishna added, “and we hope no more dogs will be given from the end of this week.”
Maneka’s proposal had quick repercussions. Several chemical and drug manufacturing firms here have stopped providing free and subsidized medicines for animals, Ravi Jha of the Times of India reported from Ahmedabad on November 3.
“Fundraising methods like selling greeting cards are also getting a negative response from the chemical corporate sectors, ” Jha continued, quoting Nandita Amin, chair of the veterinary aid group V-Care.
“We support animal experimentation for human care,” Amin said, pledging to conduct a survey among other animal welfare organizations which she hoped would repudiate antivivisectionism.
Maneka made headlines again on October 5 by demanding that Delhi police commissioner V.N. Singh arrest Delhi chief wildlife warden H.C. Dhawan, whom she accused of colluding with reptile traffickers.
The case began on September 26 when Kartick Satyanarayan of the animal welfare organization Friendicos alerted the government to the illegal possession of 10 pythons, three cobras, and six sand boas by a family of snake charmers near the Kalkaji temple. All 19 snakes were protected species. Four persons were arrested, and the snakes were seized. Magistrate Satyendra Kumar ruled that the snakes should be returned to their native habitat before October 10.
Maneka demanded of Dhawan that the snakes be released to Freindicos, instead, for veterinary treatment and rehabilitation. Dhawan, however, had his staff take the snakes to the Delhi Zoo for a feed and a medical examination, he told the Times of India, after which the snakes were released in Rajaji National Park, near Dehradun.
“Dehradun is not the natural habitat of these animals,” Maneka objected. “Their natural habitat is the Jim Corbett Park.”
But the Rajaji and Jim Corbett parks are both in the Himalayan foothills, north of Delhi, and are only about 100 miles apart.
Maneka’s greater concern, she told John Zubrzycki, New Delhi correspondent for the South China Morning Post, was that the snakes might not have been released at all.
“I do not believe Dhawan left them in their natural habitat, as he claims he did,” she declared. “He probably sold them back to the poachers.”
Dhawan produced a receipt for the snakes, dated September 28, signed by Rajaji range officer P.K. Tripathi.
Singh said he had no authority to act.
Reported Zubrzycki, ‘Ms. Gandhi, who runs an animal hospital and a telephone help line for sick cows, also accused Mr. Dhawan of doing nothing after an American Embassy cook was caught last August with an endangered hog deer in an auto-rickshaw.”
Cows vs. dogs
Such is expected of Maneka, who on September 8, 1998 won the shift of the animal welfare department from the agriculture ministry to the ministry for social justice and empowerment. The department attempts to implement the policies set by the Animal Welfare Board of India.
‘According to our information, ” said Susi Wiesinger of Ahimsa, “she is also trying to get a separate ministry for animal welfare. It is very fortunate to have a minister for animal welfare who is actually a dedicated animal rights activist,” Wiesinger added. “We all have big hopes, and do expect dramatic changes for the animals.”
Krishna, active in animal welfare since his family founded the Blue Cross of India from their home in 1959, took note of Maneka’s opposition. Although Maneka holds a key position within the government formed in March 1998 by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, which might not be able to maintain a parliamentary majority without her, she is not a party member, and has clashed often not only with animal use industries but also with current Animal Welfare Board of India chair Guman Mal Lodha.
Lodha, a conservative judge, was among the speakers at the 34th annual meeting of the Blue Cross of India on September 20.
“Lodha was under the impression that the Blue Cross was primarily a dog-and-cat organization,” Krishna said. “At the first meeting of the Animal Welfare Board under Lodha, in August, grants to Blue Cross organizations were slashed. In my welcoming address I mentioned that, asked Lodha to restore the grants, and added that to us at the Blue Cross, which has chapters all over India, a cat is a dog is a cow. During his speech, Lodha thundered that to Indians a cow is special, that India lives in her villages, the cow must be given special treatment, and finally that the last chair, General Ashoke Chatterjee, had concentrated on dogs, and he, Lodha, wished to concentrate on pinjarapoles and gaushalas, the traditional Indian cow shelters, the first of which were reputedly founded circa 3,000 years ago by Lord Krishna.
“After the meeting,” S. Chinny Krishna continued, “when Lodha walked around our new center, he was quite surprised to see more than 100 rescued cattle, and wanted to know why we were not stressing the work we do for cows and bulls.
“At the same event, General Chatterjee announced the start of a Blue Cross animal ambulance service in Chennai, largely funded by the U.S.-based William & Charlotte Parks Foundation, and the Brooke Hospital, a British horse protection charity. The service will be used, in part, to rescue cattle who have been injured by traffic.”
While cattle are still the basis of the rural Indian economy, in cities they tend to become chiefly an animal control and humane problem. As New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak reported from New Delhi on October 21, 1998, “with little grass to graze on in the paved cityscape, cows scavenge through trash that is increasingly often packed into polyethylene,” which cattle cannot digest.
“New Delhi employs about 100 cow catchers to round up as many of the estimated 40,000 cattle on the city streets as possible. Many of those they capture are dying from the effects of plastic packed into their intestines.”
“We lose two or three cows a day,” New Delhi gaushala veterinarian Vijay Chaudry told Bearak.
“Animal welfare activists, recycling advocates, and devout Hindus are seeking a ban on plastic bags, but are unlikely to succeed,” Bearak suggested. “In modern India,” he wrote, “the utility of the garbage bag may be beyond even the spirituality of the cow.”
Lodha took a more conciliatory direction two weeks later in an interview with Utpal Chatterjee of the Times of India, after a visit to the Calcutta Zoo. He reportedly agreed with local humane officials that the zoo is too crowded, and praised Maneka for increasing the Animal Welfare Board budget fivefold.
“We shall no longer be starved of funds to ensure the prevention of cruelty to animals,” Lodha said. He praised Maneka s allocation of money to support increased veterinary services, including animal ambulance programs like the one in Chennai.
However, Lodha cautioned, “these projects are yet to be cleared by the finance ministry.”
His favorite topic remained cows––especially illegal exports of cows for slaughter.
“Such smuggling must be stopped, ” he said. “We are considering steps to stop the interstate sale and movement of cattle,” as Maneka announced just a few days later.
Similarly, Lodha continued, “we are soon taking measures to close down 36,000 illegal and unlicensed slaughterhouses.”
Whether or not Maneka can get as much from the Bharatiya Janata government as she seeks, animal protection groups have high hopes. And the pressure for big changes, soon, isn’t just coming from India.
On October 17, for instance, the London-based Born Free Foundation demanded an end to the annual Great Elephant March, a tourism event held in Kerala state each January since 1990. Born Free claimed that each of the 103 elephants used in last year s march suffered ankle injuries from chains.
About 560 privately owned elephants reside in Kerala, including 50 at the Guruvayur temple.
Only Assam state, with about 1,000 privately owned elephants, claims more. While the Kerala elephants chiefly participate in public events, including to promote vegetarianism and animal welfare, Assamese elephants are mostly used to drag logs.
I donate to what appears to be a wonderful animal rescue group called Animal Aid Unlimited. They operate I believe out of Delhi and seem to rescue and rehab the most awful hopeless cases. I was surprised one day when I got a personal thank you email from Erica who together with her parents, started the agency. Over the years I have continued getting personal notes from time to time although I am not a big donor by any means.