As the world’s loneliest elephant, Kaavan got rehabilitation in Cambodia with a herculean effort by NGO “Free the Wild”, run by American actor and singer Cher, conservationists have reminded Chhattisgarh Forest Department about a bull elephant, Sonu pushed into slavery as a Kumki elephant by the Department. Sonu was supposed to be released in wild as per the High Court order, but it seems the Department has no interest, whatsoever, in the rehabilitation of the elephant.
Kaavan became the loneliest elephant when his companion “Saheli” at Islamabad Zoo died due to mishandling by zoo management eight years ago. For eight long years, Kaavan not just lived in loneliness but was subjected to inhumane treatment by Islamabad Zoo Management. Kaavan lost his toenails which decayed due to deep wounds developed by iron shackles tied to his limbs.
Kaavan’s ordeal finally drew the attention of NGO Free the Wild’s Director Cher. A petition was filed Islamabad High Court to demand the release of Kaavan. The High Court took a pity and ordered rehabilitation all the animals to somewhere else and shut down Islamabad Zoo. Wildlife lovers managed to arrange a Russian cargo plane to transport Kaavan to Cambodia on December 1. Cher contributed half the rent of cargo plane.
Story of Sonu is no less tragic than Kaavan as he too has to go through a similar ordeal in Chhattisgarh. When Sonu was first caught in 2016, Forest Department chained him at a spot. He could hardly move a few feet and the constant dragging of feet against iron shackles resulted in deep wounds. The wounds festered and were on the verge of becoming gangrenous when the wildlife lovers got High Court to call veterinarian doctors from Kerala by filing a petition.
Erstwhile Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) had even ordered a rehabilitation of Sonu at a proper place, but the order never materialized on the ground and was put on cold storage.
The Animal Welfare Board of India also recommended for setting Sonu free in forests, which again thrown into the dustbin. The two veterinarians from Kerala, Dr Menon TS and Dr Rakesh Chitora, who treated the elephant, asked Forest Department to keep Sonu close wild area, where he could come in contact with wild elephants and then gradually set him free. They recommended the same for Raju, Civil Bahadur and Lali, the three other elephants kept at ATR. Chhattisgarh High Court, in an order dated August 18, 2017, left the decision to release Sonu in the wild on the discretion of Forest Department of Chhattisgarh. But as it turned out, the discretion is still in slumber.
Sonu and Civil Bahadur put under captivity at Tamor-Pingal Rescue Centre in 2018 while Lali and Raju handed over to ATR authority for jungle patrolling. Raju was later engaged in tiger tracing task in Balod whereas Sonu still locked at Tamor-Pingla.
Most worrying fact, which came to light, was a letter of Surguja Elephant Reserve’s Deputy Director to PCCF Wildlife on October 6, 2020. The letter was to inform PCCF Wildlife that Sonu was taken in for training as a Kumki elephant. Since Sonu was quite young when caught on December 1, 2015, he is a suitable candidate for training as a Kumki.
The Deputy Director even said since Sonu was living in captivity for a long time and was eating the fodder brought by humans, he has been domesticated. But, he forgot about the memory of elephants. It means an elephant never forgets his wild instinct.