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Lost and found, Laxmi to live in Elephant Haven

 Mumbai Mirror, Mumbai, Jul 20, 2013

Obese teen elephant went missing days after MP forest department cancelled her private ownership; found on Friday evening, she will now be rehabilitated at a Mathura facility exclusively for pachyderms.

Days after the Madhya Pradesh forest department cancelled the private ownership of Laxmi - an 18-year-old elephant whose 58-year-old companion Bilji died on June 30 - the Thane forest department realised on July 17 that there was no sign of the ailing beast. They spend the next two days searching for the missing elephant, and eventually found her on Friday evening.

On July 16, Thane forest officials got a copy of the order stating that Laxmi was no longer owned by Ramadevi Goswami. However, before they could begin the process of taking custody of Laxmi, they realised that she was nowhere to be found.

A senior forest official stated, "We got the copy on July 16. They next day, we wanted to take custody of her and sent our staff to do so. However, they soon realised that she had disappeared. We suspected that her former owners had a hand in her disappearance as they did not want to give up the elephant."

However, after long search, forest officials eventually found Laxmi in near Wagle Estate in Thane on Friday evening. "We were all set to file amissing complaint and a case against the owner for taking the elephant away, but after a lengthy search, we managed to locate her in Thane. We will now begin the process of taking ownership," said GT Chavan, deputy conservator of forests, Thane range, who played a major role in Laxmi's rescue.

Even during the search, forest officials claim, Laxmi's former owners tried their best to retain her by approaching "well-connected people". "The owners approached several politicians and well-connected people for help as they wanted to overturn the order by claiming that Laxmi was in good health and did not need rehabilitation. Some even tired to help them but nothing worked, and the forest department now has custody. If the forest department had filing a police case it would have further increased the owners' problems," said a forest official.

Meanwhile, Chavan said Laxmi will be rehabilitated at Mathura by an organisation called Wildlife SOS, whose veterinarians also treated Bijli. "They know Laxmi's history and are willing to rehabilitate her at their elephant rescue and rehabilitation facility. We have got all the necessary permissions and transport permits for Laxmi to be sent there and will soon contact Wildlife SOS to begin the process," he said.

Dr Yaduraj of Wildlife SOS, one of the country's largest animal rescue and conservation organisations, said, "Bijli suffered because of a poor diet, which made her obese. Being overworked ruined her joints to the extent that she could barely stand. She died in agony. Laxmi is also at risk, but we can rehabilitate her at our facility, Elephant Haven." He added that they also plan to take the mahaout along as many elephants are so attached to their mahaouts that they cannot live without them.

Dr KK Sharma, an elephant expert and a Central Zoo Authourity (CZA) member, who come from Assam to see Bijli, said, "Laxmi is even more vulnerable to the health issues that killed Bijli. She is even more obese for her age than Bijli was. A check-up also revealed that she has skin diseases. She had been kept in an hygienic environment and fed unhealthy food for along time."

Pawan Sharma of Resqink Wildlife Welfare Association (RAWW) said, "We saw Bijli dying and did not want Laxmi to have a similar fate. We are extremely happy that the Thane range has decided to get Laxmi rehabilitated, but they should do so at the earliest." Sharma added that this was the right time to rehabilitate other elephants that are used for begging and kept in pathetic conditions in Mumbai and Thane.