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Ethical debate revolving around Anant Ambani's Jamnagar Zoo

Explore the ambitious project of Anant Ambani's Zoo: a sanctuary for diverse species that challenges norms and sparks ethical debate.

By Ground report
New Update
Ethical debate revolving around Anant Ambani's Jamnagar Zoo

In the realm of wildlife conservation and animal rights, the emergence of private zoos has stirred a complex debate, challenging traditional norms and raising ethical questions. At the heart of this debate is the ambitious initiative by Reliance Industries to create a sprawling zoo in Jamnagar, Gujarat.

Dubbed the Green Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Kingdom, this project has captured the public’s imagination and scrutiny alike, promising an unprecedented sanctuary for many species while also inciting controversy over its implications for conservation and animal welfare.

The project, spearheaded by Anant Ambani, the youngest son of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, aims to house diverse species from around the globe. Reports suggest that the zoo will feature animals such as the pygmy hippo, orangutan, lemur, Bengal tiger, and many others, some of which will be transferred from other Indian zoos.

The transfer of two tigers from Nainital Zoo to the proposed facility in Jamnagar has raised questions about the impact on the existing zoological institutions and the animals themselves. The movement of animals from Madhya Pradesh’s zoos, including the tiger Pancham from Van Vihar National Park, has further intensified these concerns.

Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Kingdom
Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Kingdom. Photo Credit: Discover Wildlife Tourism World

Critics argue that private zoos, regardless of their size and the nobility of their intentions, may not align with the best practices of animal conservation and welfare. They point to the potential risks associated with removing animals from their natural habitats or established conservation programs. Moreover, the ethical considerations of keeping wild animals in captivity for human recreation cannot be overlooked.

The legal aspect of establishing such a zoo has also been a point of contention. A petition filed in the Gujarat High Court sought to halt the construction of the zoo on grounds of animal safety. Subsequently, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court, questioning the ability of a non-profit organization associated with Reliance Industries to manage a zoo and expressing doubts about its experience in this domain.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled that objections to the establishment of a private zoo had no merit, stating that a company cannot be prohibited from building a private zoo if it wishes to do so. This decision was in line with the approval granted by the Central Zoo Authority in its 33rd meeting.

The comparison with Pablo Escobar’s private zoo in Colombia serves as a cautionary tale. The introduction of non-native species led to ecological disruptions, highlighting the potential unintended consequences of such ventures on local ecosystems.

Reliance zoo gains approval for animal transfers

The Delhi High Court has approved the transfer of 286 animals of 17 species to the Reliance zoo, known as the Greens Zoological, Rescue and Rehabilitation Kingdom. These include tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, and various other species.

The zoo, backed by Anant Ambani, son of Mukesh Ambani, plans to cover 250.1 acres and has received approval from the Central Zoo Authority. It aims to house a diverse range of animals, from deer and pangolins to rhinos and elephants.

Despite reports by several media outlets claiming the Reliance Zoo to be the “world’s largest,” it is not even the largest in India. The Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park in Tirupati, covering over 3,000 acres, is significantly larger, as are other Indian zoos such as the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai, Nandankanan Biological Park in Bhubaneshwar, Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden in Guwahati, Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, Indira Gandhi Zoological Park in Visakhapatnam, and Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens in Mysuru, all of which are managed by their respective state governments.

A melanistic leopard, commonly known as a black panther at Nagarhole National Park
A melanistic leopard, commonly known as a black panther at Nagarhole National Park. Credit: Davidvraju/Wikimedia Commons

The zoo has previously received leopards from Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh and black panthers from the Assam State Zoo, sparking controversy over the exchange between private and public zoos. The Central Zoo Authority's guidelines don't explicitly forbid such exchanges, raising questions about the zoo's eligibility for these transfers.

Delhi Court denies petition on elephants

The Delhi High Court declined a petition seeking to ban the display of elephants during pre-wedding celebrations at a zoo. The zoo, located in the Jamnagar refinery area and run by the Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust, had come under scrutiny due to concerns about the treatment of around 200 elephants there.

The petition expressed worries over the welfare of the animals during the event scheduled from March 1 to March 3, 2024. However, the court dismissed the petition, stating it was based on mere apprehension.

Yet, as a precautionary measure, a high-powered committee formed by the Tripura High Court two years ago will oversee the event to ensure the animals are treated humanely.

The trust, registered with the Gujarat Charity Commissioner's office, receives support from Reliance Industries Limited for its activities. Notably, Dhanraj Nathwani, a Reliance executive, manages the trust.

Controversy surrounds the trust's operations, with allegations of improper transfer of elephants from other states. Despite these claims, the Verma Committee, appointed by the Tripura High Court, found no irregularities during its inspection.

Questions raised over Elephant transfers

The Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust (RKTEWT), backed by Anant Ambani, has been promoting its elephant conservation efforts, which include a nutrition lab and veterinary services within a 600-acre sanctuary. However, a report by “Northeast Now” has questioned the trust’s “rescue” claims, revealing that many transported elephants were healthy and not in distress, raising concerns about the use of the term “rescue.”

Questions raised over Elephant transfers

Wildlife activist Mubina Akhtar and official records have highlighted discrepancies in the trust’s narrative, with at least 39 elephants transferred from Arunachal Pradesh since 2021, and 23 from Tripura to Jamnagar. Despite objections from wildlife organizations, a court-approved transfer of 23 elephants took place in April 2023, amid allegations of elephants being purchased rather than donated.

The origin of these elephants, whether captive-bred or captured from the wild, remains unclear. The Centre for Research on Animal Rights (CRAR) expressed concerns in April 2023 about the potential misrepresentation of wild-caught calves as captive-born to enable their trade. Historical practices in Arunachal Pradesh and upper Assam include capturing young elephants for sale across India.

In response to these controversies, Anant Ambani has announced ‘Vantara,’ a vast wildlife preservation initiative within Reliance’s Jamnagar Refinery Complex. This project, aiming to be one of the world’s largest zoos and rehabilitation centers, intends to provide sanctuary for abused, injured, and endangered animals, casting new light on the RKTEWT’s operations.

Nathwani's role in Zoo Project

Dhanraj Nathwani, a key figure within the Ambani family’s business realm, oversees a trust involved with the family’s zoo project. His father, Parimal Nathwani, holds a seat in India’s Rajya Sabha. The trust, benefiting from Reliance Industries’ CSR contributions, has been active in elephant welfare, with Dhanraj dedicating significant time to its operations.

The trust’s activities, particularly concerning elephant care, have been supported by Anant Ambani, who has been suggested for national recognition due to his contributions. Dhanraj, who also leads the Gujarat Cricket Association and serves as a group president at Reliance Industries, has publicly acknowledged the receipt of elephants from various donors for the trust.

However, an RTI inquiry revealed that the Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust is not registered in Jamnagar as of November 2022. Despite extensive documentation efforts by two reporters, the trust’s official status remains unclear, with further RTI responses pending, leaving open the question of its registration elsewhere.

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