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20 unfit elephants not to be used for rides at Amer Fort

Amer Fort in Rajasthan

Acting on the recommendation of a committee constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the Rajasthan Government has ordered that 20 "medically unfit" elephants should not be used to ferry tourists at Jaipur's Amer Fort.

The order was issued last week to the Department of Archaeology and Museums regarding these elephants, including three found TB positive, 11 blind in one eye, one suffering from bilateral corneal opacity, one with a problem in the right eye. One pachyderm needs to be kept on natural substrate while three have been ordered by veterinarians to be given complete rest.

The Rajasthan Government orders came on the recommendation of the committee constituted by the Project Elephant Division of the Ministry as well as requests by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)-India to implement its report.

The committee constituted as per March 6, 2020 order of the Supreme Court included Senior Wildlife Veterinary Officer of the Jaipur Zoo. It incorporated recommendations made by PETA-India which had sought phasing out of elephant joyrides at Amer Fort and replacing them by electric vehicles in view of ageing elephants and tourists' aversion to animal rides.

Subsequently, PETA-India collaborated with leading design company 'Desmania Design' to create a modern electric vehicle — Maharaja — and submitted a formal proposal to the Rajasthan government for its consideration and implementation.

"We hail the Rajasthan Government's move to stop the use of some of the ageing and ailing elephants identified by the expert committee," said PETA-India Chief Advocacy Officer Khushboo Gupta. "We hope that while implementing the remaining recommendations, the State Government will provide tourists with an opportunity to receive royal treatment with majestic, cutting-edge electric cars PETA-India has proposed, which can completely replace the cruel elephant rides."

The committee's report noted that of the 98 captive elephants whose condition was reviewed, 22 suffered from impaired vision due to corneal opacity and cataracts while 42 suffered chronic foot problems, including overgrown nails and flat footpads that resulted from walking on concrete roads.

Twenty-nine elephants were found to be above the age of 50, the average lifespan of an elephant in captivity.

Two out of three elephants who tested positive for TB — a potentially fatal zoonotic disease of public health concern — were confirmed reactive to TB tests conducted by the Animal Welfare Board of India in 2018 too. The committee also recommended that the elephants and their 'mahouts' be screened for TB twice a year.