The State sponsored 48-day long rejuvenation camp for 32 temple and math elephants at the five acre land of the PWD alongside river Bhavani in Mettuppalayam at the foot hill of Nilgiris began on Monday. The camp would provide the much required rest and relaxation for the jumbos in a natural atmosphere till January 12 and the jumbos would return on January 12. The 33rd elephant Rukku from Tiruvannamalai is expected to join the camp in two days along with a guest "Prakruti" from Tirunallaru in Puducherry.

Ministers M.S.M. Anandan (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments) S. Damodaran (Agriculture) K.T. Pachaimal (Forests and Environment), Coimbatore Mayor S.M. Velusamy along with Commissioner for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments P. Dhanapal, District Collector M. Karunagaran and Joint Commissioner of HR&CE M. Pugazhendran took part in the inauguration. Earlier, a Ganapathy homam was performed in the morning which was attended by the pachyderms after taking a scrub bath in river Bhavani.

The camp began formally, with the HR&CE Minister Anandan feeding the 24 year old Andal of Aranganathasamy Temple in Sri Rangam (Chief Minister's constituency) in Tiruchirapalli.

Camp formally got underway with the traditional music even as the Ministers fed the elephants with nutritious and balanced diet as per the chart prescribed by veterinarians. Lots of nutritious food, mineral, protein supplements and green fodder are in store and the food expenditure for the jumbo's is put at Rs 1.66 lakh per pachyderm and the State has allocated Rs 75 lakh as one time sanction for the conduct of the camp.

Quantity of food and dosage of miner mixtures, protein supplements are decided on the basis of gender, age, weight and physiological condition of the elephants. In addition to jumbos, its handlers i.e., mahouts and cavadis will also get rest, rejuvenation in the form of medical check up, orientation on elephants’ behavioural patterns.

Tamil Nadu has 35 elephants in 33 temples and five mutt's have ten elephants. Normally, unwilling, aged, ailing elelphants and those pre-disposed to sickness, male elephants in masth (aggressive behaviour due to biological urge) are not brought for rejuvenation. Of the 45, initially 36 elephants were identified for the camp. Of which, the ten year old female elephant Sundaravalli Thayar of Thirukurungudi Azhagiya Nambirayar Temple refused to board the truck and the effort was given up. Another female elephant Rukku (23) of Arunachaleswarar Temple in Tiruvannamalai will join the camp little later because of the Deepam festivities in Tiruvannamalai. Rukku is expected to leave Tiruvannamalai on Wednesday.

Interestingly, this year the special guest for the camp would be Prakruthi (8) of Saneeswarar Temple in Thirunallar coming to the camp at the request of the Puducherry Government. As the elephant is under observation after anthrax vaccination, it would be joining the camp on Tuesday (November 27).

Of the 33 elephants, one each are from Vellore and Tiruvannamalai region, six from Mayiladuthurai region, three from Tiruchirapalli region, four from Madurai region, five from Sivaganga region, two from Coimbatore region and ten from Tirunelveli region. Of the 36, only two are male i.e., 60-year old Gopalan from Suseendram and 12-year old Kumaran from Thiruchendur Subramaniasamy Temple. The other senior most elephant would be 60-year old Sulikambal from Agneeswara Swamy Temple in Thirupugalur of Nagapattinam district. The junior most elephant at the camp is Sundaravalli (5) from Kallazhagar Temple in Azhagar Koil of Madurai. Of the 33 elephants, 14 of them would be calves and sub-adults.

To prevent the entry of wild elephants, the camp site has been provided with solar fencing besides four watch towers as it was very close to the reserve forests.

Bhavani passes away hours ahead of camp

Hardly hours ahead of the commencement of the camp, more than 55-year old elephant Bhavani of Ramanathasamy Temple in Rameswaram died.

Bhavani reached Mettuppalayam on Sunday after more than 13 hours of travel standing on a truck. The elephant was transported after local veterinarians there examined it and certified that it was fit to travel. On arrival at the camp site, it was weighed and veterinarians examined the pachyderm and prescribed a food chart containing quantity of food and dosage of supplements.

Around 5.30 p.m. on Sunday, the pachyderm ventured into river Bhavani for drinking water and it kneeled down. It remained in a kneeling position for more than two hours and the mahouts and cavadis initially thought that the elephant was enjoying its dip in the cool waters of Bhavani river. When it failed to get up after a long time, veterinarians and officials ran and examined and found that something was wrong with the elephant. It was ascertained that the aged elephant, which was tired was not able to get up. Subsequently, it fell on its sides in an awkward position complicating the rescue efforts. Meantime, it had consumed more water. Using a crane it was lifted and brought out of the river.

Later, it was brought to the Forest Department timber depot on Kotagiri road and the veterinarians began their marathon efforts to revive the elephant. Efforts went on throughout the night but went in vain. By Monday forenoon, the officials said that the elephant was dead and its body was being taken to Rameswaram for burying it near the temple.