GUWAHATI, April 22 - Between 2011 and 2015, some 40 domestic elephants were transferred outside the State for specific periods. None of them were brought back.
And now, even as the State forest department pursues the cases with their counterparts in states, where the pachyderms were taken, in a bid to bring the animals back following the expiry of the transfer periods, a racket involving capture and training of wild elephants for the purpose of smuggling has come on the radar of wildlife crime investigators.
At least three such elephants were seized in the State during the last one year. Two other cases were detected in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh prior to that. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is probing the cases.
Sources said the forests in and around Namsai in Arunachal have become a happy hunting ground for the elephant traffickers.
�There is a network, most of them based in Tinsukia district, behind the racket. The person who captures the wild elephant is known as �fandi�. There are a few notorious fandis in Tinsukia and investigators are on their lookout. They capture the wild pachyderms with the help of a domestic elephant which is known as �kunki�,� officials told The Assam Tribune.
Once a flourishing traditional art, elephant capturing was totally banned in 1977.
The caught wild elephant is then trained for three to four months in the jungles, before being sold to dalals. An elephant can fetch more than Rs 5 lakh in this initial transaction. In some cases it has emerged that fake documents of the animal like ownership certificates, transfer papers, etc., are then made in Nagaland. In one or two cases, even the animal was taken to somewhere along the Nagaland border in Golaghat district for the purpose.
The animals are then smuggled out of the State, mostly by road. While the main destinations are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, forest department officials also do not rule out the possibility of the elephants being taken out of the country, either live or their parts.
�We have gone to the places where the captive elephants were supposedly taken as per the papers. But we did not find them there. Apparently, they were taken to some other place,� a forest official said.
According to a study done by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, well-organised elephant traffickers are spread over various districts of Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Their presence is significant around the source areas, such as Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Doomdooma, Golaghat, Nagaon, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Sivasagar and the destination points around Sonepur, Saran, Patna, Chapra, Balia, Baishali, Sitamarhi. Some of the elephant traffickers belong to Tripura, Deoria (UP) and Kerala.
�Some of the businessmen of Bihar and UP settled in Assam have developed links with the local agents in Assam for facilitating the transfer of elephants. Some of the elephant smuggler groups are dealers in coal, timber and auctioned vehicles,� the study had noted.
According to Aaranyak CEO Bibhab Talukdar, illegal live elephant trade from some of the northeastern states to other parts of India has been a concern as almost all so-called domestic elephants sent from NE India to other parts of the country have not come back as per orders generally issued by the office of the Chief Wildlife Warden.
�There are allegations that wild calves or sub-adult elephants are caught in neighbouring states of Assam and then with manipulations of papers some of these elephants are transported to rest of India showing them as domestic elephants. This need a high level inquiry,� Talukdar said.