Elephants in India are revered as embodiments of Lord Ganesha, who according to Hindu belief, is the remover of obstacles, patron of arts, sciences and lord of intellect and wisdom. But how much wisdom are we showing while taking care of these gentle giants? Apparently, the scenario of the captivated elephants in the country is precarious, and a majority of them are dying a slow death because of the unimaginable torture they are put through.
At least 26 elephants died in 2016 in the southern state of Kerala due to torture and negligence by their custodians. According to the reports of Heritage Animal Task Force, a voluntary body focusing on animal welfare, 20 of them were owned by individuals, three were under the control of state forest department and three were in Guruvayur temple.
Kerala has the highest number of captivated animals
The southern state on the Malabar coast is home to the highest numbers of captivated elephants. The species is now subjected to radical habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. As per the records of the government, the state has 577 elephants in captivity. Whereas, elephant owners association claims that the number is 684. Temples and individuals own most of them. Nearly 427 elephants are kept by various temples and individuals in Kerala, without statutory ownership certificates. They are used for religious ceremonies. The famous Guruvayur temple has more than 60 elephants in captivity. Also, owning an elephant in the state is the symbol of the feudal status of the people who rent these animals to showcase them in more than 10,000 festivals and garners huge revenue.
Cruelty against elephants
The elephants are subjected to torture; they are blinded, starved, chained and paraded amidst loud firecrackers. They are all chained and have no protection from the blinding sun or the rains. For the festivals, they are transported long distances in open vehicles in the scorching suns for hours. Without sufficient food or water, these elephants are often force-fed alcohol to keep them calm. Pambady Rajan, a 35-year-old elephant has to travel to long distances more than 10 times a week, without any rest or proper feeding. “Pambady is being used like a non-living being, like a vehicle. He is made to board a truck and transported for some hundreds of kilometres. Once the showcasing is done, Pambady is again boarded on the truck to send him to another place,” said one of the elephant activists to The Logical Indian.
Apart from all these grisly exercises, the elephants also bear the abuse by the mahouts. The average lifespan of an elephant is 80 years, but because of the large workload and diseases, these animals are dying prematurely between the age of 20 and 40 years. Shivraj, one of the most famous elephants of the state was chained by his mahout so tightly that the shackle got lodged inside the flesh. More than one year has passed, and Shivraj is still recovering from the gruesome wound.
Skewed numbers and illegal transfers
Due to the rampant illegal trade of elephants, the forest department does not have the actual count of these animals in the state. People illegally capture elephant calves from the forest, and when authorities interrogate them, they make excuses of rescuing the calf when it was drowning in the river, or that it unknowingly entered human habitation or the mother of calf died or suffered an infection. According to sources, many of the forest department officials are also aware of this trend of illegal capture. “A baby elephant was captured last year from the Nilambur jungle because surprisingly it had 20 toes. Due to this unique feature, it was brought to the Konni Elephant camp. The reasons cited were that it entered human habitat and that it was brought to the camp by a rescue team, which we know is not true,” said the activist to The Logical Indian.
Lack of medical support and death
The Forest department also does not have a proper record of the death of elephants in the state. Between November 2011 and December 2016, 302 elephants have died in Kerala, and there are hundreds more counting their last days.
The leading causes of these deaths are the inability to identify the disease, treatment by inexperienced doctors, and lack of proper food and water. Most of the elephants die here because of bedsores and tuberculosis.
Most of these elephant doctors are self-trained and not equipped to take care of the animals. Alternative therapies like Ayurveda are also used to treat them. Out of inexperience, the medicines which are given to human beings are given to elephants too. The doctors don’t even diagnose the diseases by looking at the symptoms. And there isn’t even a proper veterinary hospital in the state to treat the animals. If a team of good elephant doctors examine, none of the elephants will be allowed to parade in temple festivals.
Despite the staggering number of deaths every year, the authorities concerned have turned a blind eye and did not take any action against the erring custodians of the elephants. One of the main reasons for such apathy is believed to be the promotion of tourism in the state. As per a report submitted by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden of Kerala in October 2015, the number of captive elephants in the state was 601, out of which 435 were owned by private individuals, five by circuses and 161 by Devaswom Boards and temples. Surprisingly, only 312 owners had ownership certificates of the elephants and 289 were being held captive without any paperwork. The government, however, instead of punishing the mahouts for illegally holding a wild animal, tried to give them amnesty. If such apathy continues to be practised all over Kerala, then in 10 years, there is a high probability that elephants will become extinct from the state.
The list of names of captive elephants who died in Kerala between January 2016 – December 2016
1)CHITTILAPPALLI RAJASEKHARAN (age 21) on 07.02.2016,Thrissur
2)INDRAJITH (age18) on 23.02.2016, Pathanamthitta
3)GURUVAYUR SATHYANARAYANAN (age 50) on 26.02.2016, Guruvayur
4)GURUVAYUR KESAVANKUTTY (age 42) on 01.042016, Guruvayur Dewaswom
5)ERUMELI MANIKANDAN (age 35) on 10.04.2016, Kottayam
6)PEROOR KRISHNAN (age 19) on 23.04.2016, Thiruvananthapuram
7)KAREPPARAMBIL KALIDASAN (age 50) on 02.05.2016
8)KOOTTANAD SIVANKUTTY (age 47) on 08.05.2016, Thrissur
9)KOOTTANAD MADHU (age 40) on 17.05.2016, Thrissur
10)MAYYANAD VIJAYAN (age 54) on 10.06.2016, Mayyanad, Kollam
11)KOTTARAM KALIDASAN (age 48) on 11.06.2016, Valanchery,Malappuram .
12)THALIPPARAMBU SIVASUNDAR (age 29) on 07.07.2016, Kannur
13)LEKSHMI (age 6) on 21.07.2016, Konni, Pathanamthitta
14) PUTHENKULAM LEKHSHMANAN (age 23) on 04.09.2016, Paravoor, Kollam
15) MANISSERY DEVIDATHAN (age 52) on 10.09.2016, Manissery, Palakkad District
16) CHAMAPPUZHA JAYASREE (age 50) on 11.09.2016, Adimaly, Idukki District
17)GURUVAYUR RAMANKUTTY (age 64) on 15.09.2016, Guruvayur Elephant camp
18)VENATTUMATTOM GANESHAN (age 38) on 23.09.2016, Alanad, Kottayam district.
19)PALLARIMANGALAM KUNJU (age 40) on 10.10.2016, Eranakulam district
20) VENATTUMATTOM RAJASHEKARAN (age 55) on 18.11.201655, Pathanamthitta district
21) ITHITHANAM GURUVAYURAPPAN (age 42) on 23.11.2016 Kaipparambu, Puthur of Palakkad District
22) NEDUMKUNNAM VALIYAVEETTIL MANIKANDAN, (age 40) on 23.11.2016
23) AMMU (age 6) on 08.12.2016, Konni
24) NAKERIMANA KESAVAN (age 53) on 15.12.2016, Guruvayur,Thrissur
25) ADIYATTU AYYAPPAN (age 28) on 19.12.2016, Thrissur
26) PUNNAKKATTIL VISHNUVINAYAKAN (age 42), on 26.12.2016, Kadungallur in Ernakulam District.