"The elephants in this circus were a priority [for our team] as they were in terrible distress," Geeta Seshamani, cofounder of Wildlife SOS, previously said in a statement.
But now, due to a loophole in the law, a court in Pune has ordered the elephants to be returned to the circus, who turned up Wednesday to reclaim them.
"This is the darkest day for improving the welfare of elephants that we have ever seen," Nikki Sharp, executive director for Wildlife SOS USA, told The Dodo. "We were making such progress treating them. And the law was on our side. But today justice failed to protect these vulnerable creatures."