In India, the country’s richest family launches a huge contested animal center

In India the countrys richest family launches a huge contested

The Ambani family, at the head of the largest private group in India, has just opened an animal center comprising thousands of rare and “rescued” animals from around the world. Some, however, question the real objective of this ecological project.

5 mins

The world learned about this wildlife center during one of the most opulent parties of the year in India. Between March 1 and 3, Anant Ambani, son of Mukesh Ambani, the boss of the Reliance Industries conglomerate and the richest man in Asia, organized a grand ceremony for his pre-wedding, in their region of Gujarat, in western India.

Hundreds of people were invited, including some of the most influential in this world : from the CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, to that of Google, Sundar Pichai, including the biggest stars of Bollywood, for a party estimated to cost around 100 million euros. And between two cocktails and a private concert by star Rihanna, they were invited to dress in “ jungle fever » to discover the biggest attraction of the moment for the Ambani family: their enormous Vantara animal rescue center.

From orangutans to hippos by Pablo Escobar

For several years, Anant Ambani, who says he is passionate about the animal cause, has developed one of the craziest animal projects of the moment: on the coast of Gujarat, and a stone’s throw from the gigantic oil refinery which made the wealth of the Reliance Industries group, Vantara is home to more than 200 elephants, 300 felines (leopards, tigers or lions), hundreds of crocodiles and rare tropical birds, among others. They come from all over the world.

According to an investigation published by the Himal Southasian news site, and conducted by Mr. Rajshekar, black bears, cougars and jaguars arrived from Mexico, kangaroos and orangutans from the United Arab Emirates, or tropical animals such as pacas and saki monkeys, transported from Guyana. The young Anant Ambani, aged 28, who oversees the operations of the Greens foundation, has even planned to welcome 60 of Pablo Escobar’s 150 African hippos, lost in Colombia after the death of the famous cocaine trafficker. The cost of their move is estimated at 3.2 million euros.

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The main objective of this enormous center, spread over 1,200 hectares, is to rescue “ animals in distress “, and of ” facilitate the reproduction of animals in danger of extinction “, but it is also planned to open the doors, to make it a zoo of approximately 230 hectares. And the Ambani family is giving itself the means: the center has a state-of-the-art hospital, equipped with a magnetic resonance machine and six surgical centers. In 2022, expenses for its operation amounted to 7.8 million euros.

The multinational Reliance Industries, which operates in hydrocarbons, energy, telephony and retail, and which is close to the government of Narendra Modi, is the largest private group in India. Last year it recorded a profit of more than two billion euros.

The contested acquisition of rare birds

But this privatization of the animal cause worries some environmentalists. First, by the way in which animal acquisitions are carried out: Himal Southasian’s investigation reveals that 91 of these elephants were brought from the humid tropical Indian region of Arunachal Pradesh, on the border with Burma, and that the origin of certain pachyderms would be doubtful. It is forbidden in India to buy elephants, or capture them in the wild, so the rescue center would have had to convince elephant owners, who use these animals to transport tree trunks, to to offer.

Nobody gives an elephant for free, retorts an environmentalist, who wishes to remain anonymous due to the influence of the Ambani family. And because of the strong demand exerted by this private rescue center, sales prices in this region have climbed between 2.5 and 3 million rupees per elephant (27,000 to 33,000 euros) “. Some young pachyderms wore freshly placed ear rings, which would indicate that they were recently captured in the wild. The Greens Foundation strongly denies having purchased or captured these animals. She insists that all rules were followed and the operation approved by a committee appointed by the Supreme Court.

Significant controversy also emerged over the acquisition of 26 Spix’s Macaws (Cyanopsitta spixii), a very rare species of parrot from Brazil, extinct in the wild, of which only 204 individuals remain in captivity, almost all in a specialized center in Germany. Brazil is trying hard to reintroduce them, and has fiercely resisted plans to send them to India, but the Vantara animal center, controlled by one of the country’s most influential families, won its case.

A collection of animals »

The location of this center is also problematic. The Gujarat region records among the highest temperatures in the world, exceeding 50 degrees in summer, which is not conducive to many host species. It is also located right next to one of the largest refineries in the world, with a polluted atmosphere conducive to industrial accidents.

Finally, the size of the project is contested. “Pwhy bring hippos to India, or other dozens of foreign or hybrid species?asks the environmentalist cited above. If you want to protect animals, why not start with the many endangered species in India? » For him, the main objective of this project is not clear. “ We no longer know if it is a zoo, an animal protection project or a breeding center, he concludes. To me it looks more like a collection of animals intended to satisfy the vanity of a very rich person “.