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Jumbo gift gets stuck amid protests

By Our Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI, APRIL 7. Little `Veda', India's `courtesy gift' to Armenia's Yerevan Zoo, has managed to create more than a rumble in the corridors of power in the Capital in the wake of appeals from across the globe asking the Indian government to prevent the nine-year-old pachyderm from crossing the `seven seas'.

School children have been rallying for the elephant, e-mailing from the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Argentina, America, Spain and Germany. The female baby elephant from the Bannerghatta National Park, Bangalore, was promised as a mate to the lonely male elephant in Armenia way back in 1999 by the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The request was put forward by the then visiting Armenian president.

However, in December 2004 when the Armenian government asked the pachyderm to be transported in the middle of sub-zero temperatures there, an Indian non-government organisation saw red and the process was delayed by four months, resulting in Veda still being in India.

"Recent surveys show that Yerevan Zoo lacks proper housing space needed to support an elephant. Worst of all, the sub-zero freezing conditions prevalent for 4-6 months there will not suit the animal. During these cold bitter months, the elephants will have no opportunity to walk or exercise. Also, Armenia's natural vegetation does not have natural grass, leaves, sugarcane, jaggery and other nutritional requirements of elephants which are available in tropical countries," said the vice-president of Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, Bangalore, Suparna Bakshi Ganguly, the NGO that first opposed the transfer of the animal.

Meanwhile, a final decision is now pending with the Prime Minister's Office. Also, the former Union Minister, Maneka Gandhi, has joined the children efforts to keep the pachyderm at home. In a letter to the Prime Minister early this month, she said: "Yerevan Zoo's track record has been poor with elephants. They have no elephants because each time they get them, they die. One elephant was shot dead when it escaped from its enclosure in early 1970s. One elephant slipped on the ice and died in early 1990s. This elephant was suffering from malnutrition and hypothermia. The third elephant, currently housed there has been acquired from Russia in 1999 and has been housed in solitary confinement for so many years, Yerevan Zoo has no affiliations with any European zoo associations or federations and is therefore not required to follow any rules and regulations."

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