The number of female elephants in the State would be below 50 as majority of the elephant owners prefer tuskers. Healthy female animals should be identified for the project.
The forest department is planning to try out captive breeding of elephants to stabilise the numbers of the animals in the State.
“The Forest Department plans to use the facilities available at its Elephant Rehabilitation Centre at Kottur in Thiruvananthapuram for the programme,” said K.B. Ganeshkumar, Minister for Forest.
The number of captive elephants has been on the decline in the State with no new recruitments in recent years. The ban on the capture of the animals from the wild and transfer from other States has worsened the situation. The declining number has also been adding stress on the available population here, which often culminated in over-stressed animals going wild.
The number of elephants available in the State has plummeted to around 560 against the nearly 1,000 a decade ago. As the parading of the elephants has become an integral part of the temple festivals of Kerala, the captive elephants are made to participate in at least 40,000 events in six months, starting December. Each year, at least 20 elephants die of old age and diseases, which is worsening the situation, according to those in the sector.
The government will convene a meeting of the elephant experts and veterinarians shortly to discuss the nitty-gritty of the project. The availability of receptive and healthy animals and question on ownership of the calves need to be sorted out, said Mr. Ganeshkumar.
Mr. Ganeshkumar has also offered his elephant Keezhut Viswanathan for the project. “I will not stake claim for the calves that may be born out of the project,” he said.
P.S. Easa, member, Steering Committee of the Project Elephant Task, suggested that an atmosphere conducive for the animals to lead a natural life should be created at the centre where breeding may also take place. Ideally, a herd should be developed at the centre with good number of male and female elephants and juveniles. The animals need to develop bondage among them too, said Dr. Easa, an expert in elephant ecology and behaviour.
The shortage of female elephants would be a major challenge and one should not expect immediate results from the project, he said.
Breeding the elephants in captivity was the only viable option for stabilising the falling number, said P. Sasikumar, vice- president of the Kerala State Elephant Owners Federation.