Update: Sunder the Elephant Finally Free?

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Update: Sunder the Elephant Finally Free?

As we reported last week, a recent PETA India investigation revealed that Sunder, an abused Indian temple elephant Paul McCartney hoped to free in 2012, was never really freed as promised, but instead moved to a different location where he endured even worse abuse. After another round of negative publicity and petitions, the Bombay High Court ruled in favor of PETA India and ordered Sunder to be transferred to a sanctuary. Now, the long-suffering elephant awaits relocation to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC) in Bangalore.

Hopefully, Sunder’s fate will not be a repeat of 2012, when his release was announced and celebrated in ignorance of grim reality. After spending nearly a decade in chains that prevented normal movement, and enduring regular beatings, we look forward to seeing photos and video to prove Sunder’s release and enjoyment of sanctuary life. Still only 13 years old, he has many decades to rebuild his life and much to look forward to. He will never forget his abusers and how they treated him, but the sanctuary will offer other elephants and friendly humans to bond with. And of course, he’ll finally get to take a step and lie down, two simple things he missed out on when bound in chains.

We were all rooting for Sunder, who became a symbol for all the estimated 3,500 elephants currently suffering in India’s temples. Unfortunately, those elephants continue to suffer in the wake of their famous peer’s release. India’s Wildlife Protection Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act aim to prevent wild animals from this type of mistreatment, but the laws are largely ignored due to inconvenience and lack of resources. According to Dr. Chaitanya Koduri of Peta India, “We are trying our level best to implement the laws but still there are certain violations and one of the primary reasons is, because there are not enough shelters. So the government should put that issue first, that proper shelter which simulates the natural environment because not all the elephants can be released back into the wild.”

There is no word on what punishment, if any, will be given to Sunder’s abusers, other than the loss of the elephant they’ve been torturing for years.

India’s animal rights inconsistencies may seem strange, but in any population there are some who care deeply for animals and others who abuse them for perverse pleasure or some kind of economic gain. In the United States, for example, circus elephants are trained using physical abuse and are kept in chains for much of their lives, not unlike Sunder. Circus trainers go largely unpunished because no government regulations exist to monitor training sessions.

Elephants have long been recognized as some of the most intelligent creatures on earth, and new research continues to uncover their vast mental abilities. We hope that our country and others can learn to give these creatures the dignity, respect and protection they deserve.


Chrissy Spallone is a writer, illustrator and trading card artist from the South Jersey Pine Barrens. Her art and comics have appeared in The Black Warrior Review, The Salt Hill Journal and various underground collections, and she regularly contributes science fiction and horror-themed trading cards to Monsterwax. In her spare time, Chrissy enjoys volunteering at the Collingswood Bike Share, making meals from farmers' market findings, coffee shop culture, nature walks and playing with her beloved pets.

  • Pat Angel

    Thank you for talking about Sunder. That certainly will help a lot.

  • Naresh Kadyan

    This
    week, in a landmark judgement, the High Court of Bombay ruled in favour
    of PETA India by upholding the 21 August 2012 order passed by
    Maharashtra’s Joint Secretary (Forests) to release the much-abused young
    elephant Sunder to a sanctuary, please find attached here with the
    order dated 7-4-2014 of Bombay High Court for immediate implementation,
    shifting of abused elephant from captivity to rehabilitation center with
    time frame policy. The United Nation affiliated OIPA – Indian People
    for Animals media adviser Abhishek Kadyan along with Miss Sukanya
    Kadyan, programme director managed online petition with 10,000
    endorsement for rescue and release of abuse baby elephant Sunder, where
    as Naresh Kadyan, leading animal rights activist on this globe demands
    FIR against the illegal trading of Sunder elephant under cover gifts,
    which is against the law of the land, now it is proved that elephant was
    badly abused, hence the Director General of Police, Maharashtra along
    with concerned Superintendent of Police / Commissioner along with SHO
    may kindly be directed to book Member of the Legislative Assembly Vinay
    Kore along with all other offenders and crime against animal promoters,
    for the violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 read
    with the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 along with the legislation’s
    about Oath because said MLA failed to obey and perform his fundamental
    duties, as assigned under article 51 A (g) of the Constitution of India,
    where as said MLA joined his office and house after taking oath as MLA,
    keeping in view we further demands immediate cancellation of the
    ownership of this abused elephant, confiscation of this wild animal;
    National heritage animal of India.
    More than 2.2 lakh people from around the globe wrote to authorities via
    action alerts posted on PETA affiliates’ websites and pushed for
    Sunder’s release. Celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Amitabh Bachchan,
    Madhuri Dixit, Pamela Anderson, Arjun Rampal, R Madhavan, Gulshan Grover
    and many others also took to Twitter or helped in other ways with the
    campaigns.
    The Jyotiba temple came into possession of Sunder in 2007, but after his
    constant chaining and the beatings came to light, Maharashtra Minister
    of Forests Dr Patangrao Kadam and the Project Elephant division of the
    Ministry of Environment and Forests issued orders for Sunder’s release
    to a sanctuary on 21 August 2012 and 9 November 2012, respectively.
    However, those orders were never carried out, and Sunder was then taken
    away at the behest of Kore and hidden in an old poultry shed, where he
    remained in chains. In December 2013, PETA obtained video footage
    showing that Sunder’s mahout was violently beating him, and
    veterinarians and elephant experts who examined Sunder found him
    scarred, wounded and chained so tightly that he couldn’t lie down.
    OIPA – Indian People for Animals now calling on Maharashtra Principal
    Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Sarjan Bhagat to implement the
    court’s order quickly, before Sunder can be harmed again.

  • elizabethpeters

    OK….great we had the only just ruling…now let’s get him to the sanctuary ASAP!!! PLEASE NO MORE DELAYS!!!

  • guest10

    It ain’t done till it’s DONE and Sunder is in sanctuary. Who is responsible for following through and ensuring this ‘court’ and its orders are ENFORCED?! This can continue to drag on forever. WHEN WILL SUNDER BE FREED FROM THIS ABUSE NOW?!

  • guest10

    I can’t even imagine not being able to sit or lie down. Elephants already have to guard against foot problems due to their large size — how does poor Sunder ever get any REST?!

  • guest10

    So far just a bunch of excuses and words from India – get Sunder to sanctuary NOW!

  • mary

    I have been following Sunder and I can not understand what takes to long to remove
    this poor animal to a safe place. They probably do not feed it properly or help it in
    any way. Thanks for the updates, but this is unbelievable!!