The first codification of laws relating to elephants in India is
found in the famous treatise on statecraft Arthasastra by
Kautilya, Prime Minister of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya
(third century B.C.). It stipulated the setting up of elephant
sanctuaries on the periphery of the kingdoms and
prescribed the death penalty for anyone killing an elephant
within the sanctuary. The era of modern legislation was
introduced in India by the East India Company in the 18th
century. Some of the earlier pieces of legislation
concerning elephants include: the Government Forest Act,
1865 (Act VII of 1865), the Bengal Act 2 of 1866, the
Bengal Act 4 of 1866, the Bengal Regulation 5 of 1873,
the Madras Wild Elephant Preservation Act, 1873 (The
Madras Act No.1 of 1872), the Indian Forest Act, 1878 (Act
VII of 1878), the Elephant Preservation Act, 1879 (Act VI of
1879), the Bengal Act 5 of 1898, the Mysore Games and
Fish Preservation Regulations, 1901, the Wild Birds and
Animals Protection Act, 1912 (Act VIII of 1912) and the
Indian Forest Act, 1927 (Act XIV of 1927). The Acts of
1879, 1912 and 1927 remained the major laws for
protecting elephants in most parts of the country until 1972
(Bist & Barua, 2000).

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (No. 53 of 1972) [WPA-
1972] is at present the principal legal instrument for the
protection of wild animals in India. It is applicable all over
India except in the State of Jammu and Kashmir that has a
separate but similar Act. In view of Section 66 (Repeal and
Savings), this Act has an overriding effect over all other
laws concerning wild fauna in India. This Act has also led
to the formation of separate Wildlife Wings headed by a
Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) in the states and by a
Director of Wildlife Preservation at the Centre to carry out
the provisions of the Act.

It is interesting to note that in the original WPA-1972, the
Indian (Asian) elephant was included in Schedule-II (Part I)
of the Act thereby granting it the status of"Special Game”
that could be killed or captured on the basis of a licence
(Section 9) and commercially traded under a licence
(Section 44). The domesticated elephant was included in
the definition of Cattle [Section 2(6)]. Ivory was kept
outside the purview of the Act. The WPA-1972 and its
schedules were amended substantially in 1977, 1980,
1982, 1986 and 1991 and the amendments have special
implications for the elephant. Most of these changes were
influenced by the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that
has the Asian elephant in Appendix I. India became a party
to CITES on July 20, 1976 when it became obligatory to
change the domesticated legislation and the country's
import/export policy to bring its provisions into conformity
with those of the CITES. The Indian elephant was
transferred to Schedule-I (i.e. the most protected species)
on October 5 1977. The export of the Indian elephant and
its ivory from India was banned in 1978. Domestic trade in
the ivory of the Indian elephant was banned in November
1986. The Act recognizes a domesticated elephant both as
a ‘captive animal' [Section 2(5)] and a ‘wild animal' [Section
2(36)]. The term ‘vehicle' as defined in the Act also
includes the elephant [Section 2(33)].

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