Delhi’s last elephants await marching orders

This picture taken on August 21, 2018 shows Indian mahouts washing their elephant in the Yamuna River in New Delhi. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Delhi’s last elephants await marching orders

  • Authorities have ordered the seizure of the elephants
  • Fifty years ago the Indian capital housed more than 200 elephants

NEW DELHI: The mighty Heera marched through a crowded slum chewing bamboo, oblivious that freedom from life as one of Delhi’s last six elephants at work in the polluted city could be just around the corner.
After years of pressure from activists who accuse the animals’ owners of flouting wildlife regulations by keeping them in a city, authorities have ordered the seizure of the elephants.
They plan to move the 40-year-old tusker — along with Dharamvati, Laxmi, Gangaram, Moti and Chandni — out of the smoggy Indian capital but warn it could take months to find a new home for them.
“They are kept away from their natural habitat,” a senior Forest Department official said, highlighting “reports of insufficient food, water, shelter and veterinary care, all which could expose them to disease.”
Fifty years ago the Indian capital housed more than 200 elephants, covered in garlands and carrying grooms to weddings, or being sought by the faithful for blessings at temples.
But now the city — overcome by cars, a population of 20 million and choking on pollution — is no longer a suitable home for the animals, with Heera and his five bedraggled companions the last elephants to live there.
Media reports say authorities are struggling to relocate the elephants because four are sick.
Officials hope to find a new home resembling the luxuriant farm belonging to consumer goods tycoon Vivek Chand Burman in Delhi where a seventh, female street elephant was recently taken.
She has her own mud pool and quarters complete with fans and sprinklers, a world away from her poorer relatives who wade in the Yamuna, one of the world’s most polluted rivers.

Animal Rights

But while animal rights campaigners welcome the move, it is a difficult moment for their owners — who deny any neglect.
Mehboob Ali likened it to snatching a legacy passed on by his ancestors.
“My family has been keeping elephants for six generations,” he said. “They are like our family and have been with us through thick and thin. We cannot live without each other.”
Heera’s keeper Mukesh Yadav has been looking after elephants since he was a child.
“I was so in love with elephants that I even decided not to marry. I felt that I must dedicate my life to the service of this holy animal,” he said.
The animals hold a special place in Indian culture, and elephant-headed Ganesha is one of Hinduism’s most revered gods.
Yadav bemoaned the loss of traditions that once allowed elephant keepers like him to work freely across the country.
“Earlier, people had a genuine fondness for these animals. A single village could have up to 20 elephants.
“We used to take a parade to graze in the fields and leave them to roam in the jungles. We would proudly present them at weddings and feasts. And now the government comes to us claiming that they are their property?” he said angrily.

Constant Inspections

Ali is infuriated by constant inspections of his elephants, which he believes are being done under pressure from activists.
He claimed that he has been harassed on several occasions by animal welfare groups.
“They are behaving as if we have stolen these elephants whereas they belong to us,” he said.
“Do you know that my great-grandfather was often given elephants as gifts by the maharajahs? And we have continued to trade them at animal fairs in various parts of the country.”
But activists counter that such claims mask a murky nexus of commercial exploitation, where little interest is paid to the animals’ welfare.
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said the elephants had spent most of their lives in deplorable conditions and must be taken back to the forests.
“If people are actually made aware of the brutal methods used to capture, tame and bring these elephants to the city, they would never want to see them here again,” he said.
“What would you choose, the joy of seeing an elephant rolling in the mud and walking the jungles, or seeing an abused and captive creature on the streets of Delhi outside a temple or a circus?“


Jada Pinkett Smith skydives in Dubai

Updated 17 October 2018
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Jada Pinkett Smith skydives in Dubai

DUBAI: Jada Pinkett Smith took to the skies of Dubai to jump out of a plane this week, skydiving in honor of her husband’s 50th birthday.

Will Smith celebrated his big day by bungee jumping from a helicopter in northern Arizona last month in a stunt billed as a leap “in the heart of the Grand Canyon.”

However, the “Fresh Prince” did not jump at Grand Canyon National Park but over a smaller gorge on the Navajo Nation, The Associated Press reported.

For her part, Pinkett Smith decided to go head-to-head with her thrill-seeking husband by skydiving in Dubai.


“He said this is my birthday gift to him. He was like, ‘I want you to come to Dubai and I want to see you skydive. That is what I want for my birthday’,” Pinkett Smith told People magazine. “I was like, ‘Really bro?’ I haven’t done a damn thing Will has wanted me to do in seven years!” she said. “I think for Will, he has always been adventurous. For now, in his life, he has released himself to be more of that. I’m not really adventurous in that way and he has been having his adventures and I told him, ‘These are the years – you’re turning 50, so this is the year of yes for me to you because I’m always telling you no’.”

She shared a photo of herself about to jump out of the plane strapped to a professional skydiver at Sky Dive Dubai on Instagram and captioned it: “Oh…by the way…I jumped out of a plane today.”

She was in the city with her wise-cracking husband, who earlier in the week posted a photo from a bathroom in the iconic Burj Khalifa.

The funnyman, who plays the role of the genie in the upcoming live-action version of “Aladdin,” posted a snap in which he is sitting on a toilet (fully clothed, don’t worry) in a bathroom in the tallest building in the world.

“Sitting on top of the world,” he joked in the caption.

The couple enjoyed a range of activities in Dubai, including a visit to the serene dunes of the city’s surrounding desert, where Pinkett Smith shared an inspirational message in an Instagram video about finding her path and facing feelings of loneliness.

“Thinking of those moments I compromised myself in fear of being alone,” she captioned the video, in which she can be seen wearing a traditional shemagh headpiece wrapped around her head.

The actress also got the chance to spend some quality time with elephants and thanked Dubai’s Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum for the opportunity, captioning a video of the playful animals, “I made a new friend today. I love elephants. They are soooo intelligent. Much love to HRH Sheikh Hamdan @faz3 for this opportunity (sic).”