The dearth of trained men capable of sedating violent elephants has put to risk the lives of people thronging the festivals.

The district elephant squad, run by the Animal Husbandry Department, has just four men trained in tranquilising the elephants and keeping a close watch on them during festivals.

It is estimated that there are around 20 major temples in the district where more than five elephants are paraded at a time during the festivals. The temple festival season of Kerala, which starts in December, extends up to April. A few instances of elephants running amok have already been reported from the district.

The squad strength came down as two persons excused themselves from the job citing physical inabilities. Some others migrated to other jobs, reducing the strength further. The service of the squad will be available to those agencies that pay Rs. 3000 for an event. The department has sought more trained hands, said a senior official of the department. ‘

The district squad also lacks vehicles and the veterinarians are forced to use their private vehicles for reaching the festival sites and return at odd hours of the day. The Ernakulam District Panchayat, which procured dart guns for the squad, was also willing to get them a vehicle. However, the proposal did not materialise as the post of a driver was not sanctioned for the department, said the official.

The recently amended Kerala State Captive Elephant Management Rules mandate that the service of the veterinary surgeons of the squad should be made use of in all festivals parading more than five elephants. In case of private veterinarians, the service of only those who have registered themselves with the Chief Wildlife Warden can be utilised. However, the Forest Department has no information on such private veterinarians in the district, said S. Unnikrishnan, Divisional Forest Officer, Flying Squad.

The probability of overworked elephants turning violent is high during the festival season as they are shuttled from one temple to the other without being providing enough rest between the two events.

Meanwhile, complaints of violation of rules have started pouring in. The Flying Squad of the Forest Department received 25 complaints from Ernakulam and Thrissur districts since the last week of December. One case was registered in Thrissur for the improper transport of the animal. Though the facilities for transporting animals have improved, steps for ensuring them enough rest and food need to be insured, Mr. Unnikrishnan said.

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