A 47-year-old elephant that had gone missing two months ago and a countrywide alert was issued to trace it has been found, a Delhi forest department official said on Wednesday.
The elephant, Laxmi, was traced to Yamuna Khadar area. Its mahout, Saddam, has been arrested, the Delhi Police said.
"We had launched a search operation on Tuesday to locate the elephant. Three teams comprising around 12 officials combed the areas along the banks of the Yamuna river and the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border," the forest department official said.
"We requested the police to increase patrolling in the Yamuna Pusta area as we suspected the elephant was being kept somewhere there. The Shakarpur police detained the mahout and the elephant early in the morning and informed us," he said.
The elephant is safe. It was given a bath and breakfast in the morning, he said, adding that the pachyderm will be sent to a rehabilitation centre in Haryana.
Forest department officials said Laxmi was being kept in a ground around 100 meters from the office of the Delhi Commissioner of Police-east.
Sources said the elephant was being used for weddings, religious functions and other events all this time.
Forest department staff said they would pose as customers while trying to locate the elephant.
"The elephant was traced to Yamuna Khadar area and its mahout, Saddam, has been arrested," deputy commissioner of police-east Jasmeet Singh said.
The owner of the elephant, Yusuf Ali, and his elder son are absconding. Efforts are being made to nab them, he said.
Laxmi was brought to Shakarpur police station.
However, there was a ruckus outside the police station as the forest department officials tried to seize the elephant.
The pachyderm was taken away around 11.30 am on Wednesday, he added.
The efforts to trace Laxmi were revived after media reports said the elephant had been seen in Delhi.
Officials of the forest and wildlife department said that the locations combed included Mayur Vihar, Akshardham and Shakarpur, where the elephant was last seen on July 6, when forest department officials had gone to seize it.
The elephant, Laxmi, belongs to Ali's family residing in Shakarpur.
Since he could not make proper arrangements for housing, maintenance and upkeep of the pachyderm, the forest department had issued a seizure notice in February this year.
Ali then moved the Delhi high court, which said the forest department can seize the elephant only when "necessary arrangements for its transfer to the new site have been finalised".
Meanwhile, the forest department, which had sought approval from Ban Santoor elephant rehabilitation centre in Haryana to transfer the elephant, received confirmation from the state's chief wildlife warden on July 1 that Laxmi could be moved there.
On July 6, when a forest department team reached the site where the elephant was kept, Ali, his son and their relatives attacked them while the caretaker fled with the pachyderm and disappeared in the forests near Akshardham.
In August, the forest department wrote to chief wildlife wardens of all states asking them to alert it if they come to know about the whereabouts of the elephant.
The department had also alerted the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau as it suspected that the elephant could have been taken to Nepal.