Only 550 captive elephants available for the 40,000 festivals every year

Aggressive behaviour of captive elephants will go up as the number of tamed animals is falling drastically against the increasing number of events attended by them, warned experts.

Over 100 elephants have reportedly died in the State during the past six to seven years. Four elephant deaths have been reported since January 1, this year in Kerala. Going by the official figures, there are 550 captive elephants in the State against the 702 of some seven years ago.

P. Sasikumar, Vice President of the Kerala State Elephant Owners Federation, observed that on an average, around 20 elephant deaths occur in Kerala annually due to old age and diseases. Last year, Kerala lost 15 tamed elephants, he said.

It is estimated that there are around 400 elephants available for parading in the State, which will be attending around 40,000 events during the six-month long festival season starting December. The number of such events is increasing too. Elephants are no longer caught from the wild. Its recruitment from other States is also banned. The Federation has demanded steps for maintaining the elephant population, said Mr. Sasikumar who is also a member of the State Wildlife Advisory Board.

A senior official of the Kerala Forest Department conceded that the reduced availability elephants for parading in festivals would translate into high demand and increased workload for the available ones. Kerala may reach a stage with no captive elephants in two decades as there are no new recruitments to the pool. The only addition is the elephants rescued and kept in the kraals of the Kerala Forest Department, he said.

P.O Nameer, Head of the Wildlife Division of the Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur, felt that the that the mismanagement of the animal including wrong food practices, lack of exercise and misconceptions about its keeping contributed to the sufferings and violent incidents involving them. The elephants are tortured round the year, he said.

Impaction (Erandakettu in local parlance), due to the feeding of palm leaves, has proved to be major cause of elephant deaths in Kerala. Deaths due to impaction is reported only from the State.

Meddling up with the biological process of the animals too contributes to its violent behaviour. Elephants are not permitted to breed due to some superstitions. The violent behaviour of animals in musth subsides if it is allowed to breed, said Dr. Nameer.

Though the violent history of captive elephants is known to those in the sector, this information is seldom documented. Even the Forest Department does not possess any such data.

The recently introduced Elephant Data Book has provisions for recording the peculiarities of each animal, said a Forest official.

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