India to free zoo elephants

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The Independent Online

India is to move 140 elephants living in zoos across the country to safari parks and sanctuaries where the normally free-roaming animals can graze openly, an official said Thursday.

The Central Zoo Authority issued an order to India's 26 zoos to shift the animals to more spacious environments where they would be supervised by elephant keepers, B.K. Gupta, the authority's evaluation and monitoring officer, told AFP.

"It's a free-roaming animal that travels a long distance, and very few zoos have large areas to provide free movement," said Gupta. "The issue was with keeping them chained for long hours."

He said there were 140 elephants living in Indian zoos, but would not specify when or where exactly they would be sent.

The Times of India newspaper reported that each zoo would decide where to send the elephants after consulting with wildlife experts in each state.

One of India's two African elephants, named Shankar, would be moved from the Delhi Zoo to the Jim Corbett National Park in the northern state of Uttarakhand, the Times said, quoting Delhi Zoo director D.N. Singh.

The paper also said elephants in 16 circuses would be moved to new locations after an evaluation revealed sub-standard living conditions.

India is home to an estimated 25,000 wild elephants - the most in Asia - but their numbers have been vastly depleted by poaching and habitat loss.