Four elephants that suffered decades of abuse by the Rambo Circus in India were rescued last month by Wildlife SOS but now find themselves back in chains after a Pune court ordered them to be returned to the circus, and all because of an alleged clerical error.
The circus claimed that the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) sent notices to the wrong address for the circus and the AWBI couldn't prove it had done otherwise.
"So the judge ordered the animals be returned," Wildlife SOS USA spokesman John Pecorelli told GrindTV in an email. "That's why we were so shocked."
To fight back, Wildlife SOS has launched a petition drive on Change.org that requests that the government and courts reconsider their decision.
The four elephants were rescued on May 27 in a two-day operation by a team from Wildlife SOS, along with local police and the AWBI.
The Precious Four, as they are being called, were starting to receive much-needed medical care, baths and nutritious food as part of the rehabilitation process at a temporary elephant sanctuary near Pune.
Now, all of that care has been taken away from the rescued elephants by the court ruling.
"The decision does not even consider the blind elephant Goldie and her abscesses, nor the behavior of all four elephants, which is typical of elephants forced to perform in a circus—and which indicates years of extensive mental and physical trauma and torture," Wildlife SOS wrote on Facebook.
"The court order also did not consider the spiked chains on their legs, their rotting footpads, the overgrown toenails and wounds on their mouths, and the swelling from years of beatings at the hands of the circus.
“Nor did the court consider the low-quality, dry straw used as food, the elephants being tethered in their own dung and urine, and the fact that they were performed illegally – with the circus violating multiple guidelines and orders of the authorities."
The circus arrived Tuesday to reclaim the four elephants. Apparently, Wildlife SOS didn't allow them to go quietly.
"The circus people have landed up in hordes with trucks and are misbehaving with our team on the ground," Wildlife SOS wrote on Facebook. "Our brave team is fighting hard to hold them off. Hoping we don't have any causalities. Praying hard for the elephants and about this injustice …
"They are now becoming more hostile by the minute and are threatening our staff on the ground. Wish we had thousands of you with us to hold them off."
Alas, the elephants, aged 25, 35, 41 and 52, were eventually carted away and are back with the circus where they will again be forced to perform.
"The blind and injured elephants have had a small taste of freedom," elephant veterinarian Yaduraj Khadpeka said before the animals were taken. "All the efforts in providing them medical care and treatment will be lost if they are returned to the circus."
Officials from Wildlife SOS were devastated but not deterred to continue fighting.
"This is the darkest day for improving the welfare of elephants that we have ever seen," Nikki Sharp, executive director for Wildlife SOS USA, told GrindTV in an email. "We were making such progress treating them. And the law was on our side. But today justice failed to protect these vulnerable creatures.
"We’ve lost this instance, but we won’t back down from the bigger battle to ultimately save these four elephants from a circus that has abused and neglected them for decades.”
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