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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 14:59 GMT
Outcry over jumbo diplomatic gift

By Habib Beary
BBC News, Bangalore

Fears that Veda may not be able to adjust
A plan to gift an Indian elephant to Armenia has led to an outcry by animal rights activists.

They say six-year-old Veda will find it difficult to adjust to the colder climate in the former Soviet republic.

She is currently lodged at the Bannerghatta national park on the outskirts of the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

Indian animal rights groups have roped in the London-based Born Free Foundation (BFF) in their campaign, as they believe it could jeopardise the life of the young pachyderm.

"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," says BFF chief executive officer Bill Travers.

The group has written to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention to stop Veda's migration.

In Armenia temperatures are totally unsuitable for Veda
Dr HA Tanuja, veterinarian
The Armenian authorities approached India for an elephant to partner with Grand, a nine-year-old male elephant at Yerevan zoo.

Veda was chosen by authorities to replace seven-year-old Komala, who died in mysterious circumstances at the century-old Mysore zoo last October.

Yerevan zoo director Sahak Abovyan is unimpressed.

"There are 50,000 elephants in India but they [protesters] just do not want to give us one," he is quoted as saying.

"They do not want the elephant to leave their country. They are very odd people."

Separation

People for Animals, which is spearheading the protests, says Veda will find it difficult to adjust from India's tropical climate to a land where temperatures regularly fall to -14C and below in winter.

"In Armenia temperatures are totally unsuitable for Veda.

Komala
Veda replaced Komala who died mysteriously
"Another worry is moving her from a biological park to a zoo where she will be confined," says Dr HA Tanuja, a veterinarian attached to the group.

The winter enclosure meant for Veda in Armenia is said to be less than 2,500 sq ft, which is not enough to house an elephant.

Besides the prospect of facing the harsh winter, Veda also faces separation from her herd, animal activists say.

Veda lives with her mother and grandmother and separation is thought likely to be extremely painful considering female elephants rarely ever leave their herd.

PFA has launched a petition to mobilise support for their cause. School children also recently marched in Bangalore to show their disapproval.

"There is support for our movement. We have collected nearly 5,000 signatures," says Dr Tanuja.

Keeper keen

However, Veda's keeper at the national park, Bhaskar, sees nothing wrong in sending her to Armenia.

"There is no need for any worry. They will take care of her," says Bhaskar, who will accompany Veda during the initial period of her stay there.

Bhaskar has been looking after Veda since birth.

"She is a nice and friendly elephant," he says while feeding her bananas.

The local forest department says it has no role in the decision to fly out Veda.

"The central government [in Delhi] has taken a decision. We are only following orders," Karnataka Principal Conservator of Wildlife Ram Mohan Ray told the BBC.


SEE ALSO:
Zoo cries foul after elephant deaths
25 Oct 04 |  South Asia
India makes elephants appeal
16 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Drunken elephants die in accident
23 Jan 04 |  South Asia


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