Himal Southasian: Weak wildlife laws benefited Reliance’s Vantara

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Himal Southasian: Weak wildlife laws benefited Reliance's Vantara

Guwahati: According to a report by Himal Southasian, Reliance’s initiative, Vantara, is facing allegations of harboring illegally acquired elephants due to recent amendments to the Wildlife Act.
Vantara, touted as a global effort to rescue and shelter traumatized wildlife, is located in Reliance’s Jamnagar refinery complex.
Although Vantara’s magnificent fauna gained attention during the recent pre-wedding celebrations of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant, concerns remain about the origin of its elephants.
M Rajshekhar’s report highlights the creation of this massive open-air zoo by Anant Ambani, younger son of Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani.
Vantara, a combination of the Radhe Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust and Green’s Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, has 3,889 birds and animals belonging to 134 species in its custody, according to its 2022-23 annual report.

It houses 200 elephants, over 300 big cats, and numerous herbivores. Vantara, meaning “star of the forest,” boasts 3,000 acres and shelters critically endangered species like the Spix’s macaw, with only 200 remaining worldwide.

Previously, stricter regulations existed to prevent elephant trafficking. These included mandatory DNA profiling for proof of heredity, microchipping of calves, and a complete ban on capturing wild elephants.

However, recent amendments to the Wild Life Protection Act in 2021 relaxed rules regarding interstate transport of elephants. This eliminated the need for permits from wildlife authorities along the transportation route.

The report alleges that these relaxed regulations coincide with a trend in Assam, where wild elephants, both juveniles and adults, are being microchipped just before ownership registration applications are filed. This raises questions about the legality of acquiring these elephants.

The Himal Southasian report argues that recent amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act (2021) have weakened safeguards against elephant trafficking. The amendments relaxed regulations for interstate elephant transport “for religious or any other purpose” and eliminated permit requirements from Chief Wildlife Wardens along transport routes.

The Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, which merged into Vantara, denies any wrongdoing. They claim all elephant transfers before April 1, 2023, were vetted by a Supreme Court committee.

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