Elephant-smuggling ring smashed

Indian police have smashed an elephant smuggling ring in the north-eastern state of Assam, arresting five people and seizing three wild elephants, two of them calves, authorities said.

Documents seized during the operation on Sunday night showed the gang had been engaged in the illegal elephant trade for years, smuggling at least 92 elephants from the state to other parts of India over the past five years, said PK Dutta, superintendent of police in Kokrajhar, a district in the west of Assam.

Selling elephants is barred under Indian law and even getting permission to move domesticated animals between states is a complicated procedure.

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Regardless, authorities say there remains a thriving trade in elephants, with wealthy landowners in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh buying elephants as status symbols.

Authorities say the animals are usually transported by truck. The smugglers are suspected of colluding with forestry officials, who man checkpoints on major roads to prevent such smuggling.

The police investigated the ring after a local conservation group, the Green Heart Nature Club, filed a written complaint last week, Mr Dutta said.

After a three-day operation, authorities arrested five people and took custody of the three wild elephants. The group planned to smuggle as many as ten elephants out in its latest operation, Mr Dutta said.

The smugglers regularly captured wild elephants from the forests of Assam, trained them for a year or two, and then claimed they were the offspring of the state's many domestic elephants, Mr Dutta said.