Veda’s journey

The Hindu, India
February 2, 2005


by Divya Sreedharan

Till not so long ago, Veda was a happy member of a herd. The
six-year-old female elephant is now alone. Its handlers say it must
get used to being on its own.

Veda will, if the Central Government goes ahead with its plans, soon
be sent to Armenia’s Yerevan Zoo. The gift is meant to symbolise the
friendship between the two countries.

According to wildlife activists, however, such diplomacy can harm
wildlife conservation. Local non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
have been against the transfer. They say sending a mammal from
tropical climate to a country where winter temperatures dip below
14<degree> C is cruel.

Now, Veda is fast becoming a celebrity. The London-based Born Free
Foundation (BFF) founded by the actress, Virginia McKenna, and the
actor, Bill Travers, has joined the debate. According to a report
from London, the BFF has sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s
intervention to stop Veda’s transfer. The BFF chief executive
officer, Bill Travers, said: “There are many other ways to improve
relations between New Delhi and Yerevan, which will not involve the
potential suffering and possible demise of animals.” McKenna, who
acted in Born Free, is “deeply disheartened that the custom of using
animals as diplomatic gifts still continues.”

Under the Indian Wildlife Act, 1972, “gifting, rearing and keeping of
Indian wildlife” is illegal.

That has, however, not deterred such gifts from being made. Peacocks,
blackbucks, spotted deer and pythons have been given away, NGOs say.

Last month, activists here took out a protest march to highlight
Veda’s case. They have also started a signature campaign.

For now, Veda is being conditioned to get used to a country and a
climate that nature never meant it to live in.