MUMBAI, India – Elephants – long revered in India as symbols of wisdom and good fortune – are no longer allowed in Mumbai.
The state government has banned domesticated elephants from India’s largest city, saying that forcing the animals to walk the city’s chaotic, crowded and polluted streets was an act of cruelty.
“We want to keep the poor elephants off city roads. It is sad to see them walking with traffic going past,” said Shree Bhagwan, a senior official in the Maharashtra state forestry department.
The ban, India’s first, took effect last week, Bhagwan said.
Before the ban, 14 elephants worked in Mumbai. They begged for their handlers, participated in religious ceremonies or became status symbols at weddings.
Elephants often plodded along crowded promenades or suburban beaches, collecting money with their trunks. Caparisoned elephants with colorful sequined parasols would stand outside wedding halls, surrounded by band members playing brash music.
The state government issued the ban after animal rights activists said the elephants were not properly fed and suffered skin and foot ailments from being forced to walk on scorching roads.
When not working, the elephants were chained to posts and unable to move.
Most lived under busy highway overpasses.
Police were forced to release an elephant handler arrested after the ban went into effect because there was no way to look after the elephant, which spent five hours chained outside the police station.
Some 3,600 tamed elephants live in India, including some 1,000 in northeastern Assam state, where they work in logging.