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Joymala’s case flags gaps in private ownership norms for elephants

Published: 22nd Sep, 2022


The on-going dispute between the Governments of Tamil Nadu and Assam over the alleged mistreatment of a temple elephant named Joymala has brought into focus the prevailing lacunae over private ownership of elephants in India.


Asian Elephants:

  • There are about 50,000 - 60000 Asian elephants in the world. More than 60% of the population is held in India.
  • There are three subspecies of Asian elephant which are the Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan.
  • The Indian subspecies has the widest range and accounts for most of the remaining elephants on the continent.


Why private ownership of elephants is a concern?

  • As per the MoEFCC, it’s illegal to hold elephants in captivity without ownership certificates.
  • Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, Tripura and Madhya Pradesh account for 96% of elephants in captivity without ownership certificates.
  • Captive elephants are provided a poor diet and inadequate food. Due to a limited diet, elephants can suffer from intestinal infections, lung-related injections, or impactions.
  • It also leads to an increase in “black marketing” of elephants.
  • Other threats to Elephants:
  • Escalation of poaching
  • Habitat loss
  • Human-elephant conflict
  • Mistreatment in captivity
  • Abuse due to elephant tourism
  • Rampant mining, Corridor destruction

Why it is happening?

  • Lack of law enforcement or governance of the private ownership of elephants in many States.

Important Animal Rights Organisation

  • Animal Welfare Board of India

Important Government Initiatives:

  • Project RE-HAB
  • Use of LiDAR technology 
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
  • People for Animals
  • Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO)

About Project Elephant

  • It is a flagship programme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). It was launched in 1992 as a Centrally-sponsored scheme.
  • The project aims-
    • To protect elephants, their habitat & corridors.
    • To address issues of man-animal conflict.
    • The welfare of captive elephants.
  • It addresses issues of man-animal conflict and welfare of domesticated elephants.

What do the rules say regarding Ownership of Elephants in India?

  • Rules only allow for elephants to be exchanged or donated to temples or between private individuals.
  • However, without an ownership certificate, the keeping of any elephant in captivity by a private individual is illegal, as per the new amendments to the Wildlife Prevention Act.


  • Illegal Elephant trafficking & trade: Elephants are also poached for meat, leather, and body parts with the illegal wildlife trade putting elephants increasingly in danger.
  • Threat to Elephant habitat: The loss of habitat due to deforestationincreases in mining and agricultural activities has become problematic, especially for Asian elephants.



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