Why Activists are Demanding to Send Elephant ‘Shankar’ Back to Africa from Delhi Zoo

Twenty-four years ago, the government of Zimbabwe, had sent a gift to then Indian president Shankar Dayal Sharma. As a gift, two young elephants, taken from the wilderness in Africa, had arrived in Delhi in a plane and were placed in the city’s zoo. The male was named Shankar after the president and the female was named Bombai after the wife of Zimbabwe’s ambassador. Bombai died a few years later, and Shankar, who used to roam in the wilderness of Africa, has been living trapped within a fence in Delhi zoo, alone.

Now, an activist has filed a plea in Delhi high court seeking to send the elephant back to its home, BBC reported. When 16-year-old Nikita Dhawan visited the national capital’s zoo in September, she decided to fight for Shankar after seeing him. “What really struck us was his condition, he looked terribly sad,” she told BBC. According to Dhawan, who runs Youth For Animals, a non-profit organisation that works towards the protection of animals, Shankar has been living in isolation for years. The plea filed in the high court demands Shankar be removed from the zoo and rehabilitated to a wildlife sanctuary with other African elephants.

Talking to the Indian Express in November 2021, Sonali Ghosh, the Delhi zoo’s director said that she had written to parks in Africa asking if they could take the animal back, or find a mate for him. As per the zoo’s former director Ramesh Pandey, the zoo has tried to get Shankar to mix up with the Asian elephants but he was “untrained and obstinate,” Pandey had said in a statement to the Patriot.

As per the BBC report, experts warn that cramped enclosures can cause elephants to develop neurotic behaviour. A UK-based rescue organisation Aspinall Foundation has also offered to rehabilitate Shankar to Africa at their own cost.

Dhawan has also started an online petition that has gathered over 1,25,000 signatures.

India has two African elephants in its zoos, the other elephant is a male living in the Mysore zoo in Karnataka. Shubhobroto Ghosh, who works as a wildlife projects manager at World Animal Protection of India, told BBC that if the court rules in favour of Shankar’s freedom, it will set a precedent and aid the cause of all captive elephants in India.

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