New Delhi: An elephant that went missing two months ago, prompting the Delhi forest department to sound a nationwide alert, has been found ‘hiding’ in plain sight near the banks of the Yamuna in the city’s Yamuna Khadar area, an official said Wednesday.
‘Laxmi’, one of only two elephants in the city outside the Delhi Zoo, was ‘detained’ and will be kept in a rehabilitation centre in Haryana. Her mahout Saddam has been arrested, Delhi Police officials said.
The mystery of the missing 47-year-old elephant ended around 3.30am after a long day that involved three teams of four men each combing the area along the banks of the Yamuna.
Laxmi’s owner Yusuf Ali and his elder son are absconding. Efforts are being made to nab them, said Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Jasmeet Singh.
Yusuf Ali’s family protested outside the Shakarpur Police Station where the elephant was kept till noon. Laxmi was later shifted to the Delhi government’s nursery at ITO from where she will be taken to the Ban Santoor Elephant Rehabilitation Centre in Yamunanagar, Haryana.
The hunt by Delhi Police and forest officials intensified after some media reports said the pachyderm had been in the city right through.
“We launched a search operation n Tuesday to locate the elephant. Three teams comprising around 12 officials combed the areas along the banks of the Yamuna river and the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border,” a forest department official said.
For much of the two months that she was missing, Laxmi was kept in a ground barely 100 metres from the office of the Delhi Commissioner of Police (East) in Patparganj, forest officials claimed.
As the case became a source of conversation and much speculation over how an elephant could go missing in one of India’s most built-up cities, the animal at the centre of it all munched on 12 dozen bananas, one quintal sugarcane, and leaves of trees at her temporary home in the ITO nursery.
The elephant belongs to Ali’s family residing in Shakarpur. Since he could not make proper arrangements for housing, maintenance and upkeep of the animal, the Forest Department issued a seizure notice in February this year.
Ali then moved the Delhi High Court, which said the Forest Department can seize the elephant only when ‘necessary arrangements for its transfer to the new site have been finalised’.
The Forest Department got the go ahead July 1 from Ban Santoor to transfer the elephant. A Forest Department team reached July 6 to take the elephant but was allegedly attacked by Ali, his son and their relatives. In the commotion, the mahout fled with the elephant and ‘disappeared’”into a wooded area in the Yamuna floodplains near the Akshardham temple.
Since then it had remained ‘missing’.