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In a first, Kerala’s captive jumbos get genetic IDs

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Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 19: Kerala is all set to become the first state in the country to have a DNA database of its captive elephants, thanks to an unique DNA database initiative of the state government.

The Forest department, with the technical support of the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology (RGCB), has prepared the DNA database of all the registered captive jumbos across the state.

Elephants

The database would act as an authentic record and data to settle any kind of dispute regarding the peculiarities and ownership of jumbos, the department officials said.

Captive elephants are those that have been captured from the wild and used by humans.

End to illegal trade

It is also expected to address the illegal trade, forgery of ownership certificates and other malpractices related to captive jumbos, an official statement said.

The microchip has been found too inadequate as an identification tool. There are widespread complaints that microchips of dead elephants are being taken out and inserted into elephants smuggled in from Bihar or Assam. It was one such complaint registered by K Venkitachalam of Heritage Animal Task Force that had prompted the Forest Department to launch the DNA profiling drive.

The DNA profiling of as many as 519 elephants, registered with the department, has been completed.

Kerala leads the way

With this, Kerala has become the first in the country to have prepared the DNA-based genetic ID of its entire captive jumbo population, it said.

As part of the initiative, the forest department had collected the blood samples of tuskers based on which the RGCB experts had prepared the DNA fingerprint of each elephant using the Micro-satellite Marker technique.

"The Department is now planning to develop a mobile app to make use of the information available in the database," the release said.

From now onward, the Forest department would provide identity cards, with QR codes having DNA details, to the owners of the captive elephants along with its ownership certificate, it said.

3,500 elephants in captivity

According to government data, there are about 3,500 elephants in captivity in India: in forest camps, private ownership, travel and tourism, zoos and temples. While the conditions in forest camps are in most cases good, it is in temples and in tourism that elephants suffer the most.

Apart from Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Prevention of Cruelty of Animals Act, 1960, many state guidelines exist for the welfare of captive elephants.

In November, the Supreme Court directed the Animal Welfare Board of India to conduct a survey across the country to ascertain the number of elephants in captivity and their conditions.

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