The rent-an-elephant proposal of the Kerala Forest Department has drawn flak from a few members of the State Wildlife Advisory Board.
The department had recently revised the maximum rent of adult animals to Rs. 12,000 a day. Around 30 elephants are housed in the five elephant camps run by the department. Anyone who wishes to hire the animals could walk away with them after paying the prescribed fee.
V.D. Satheesan, MLA, said that department should abstain from the move, which would send a wrong signal to society.
According to Mr. Satheesan, captive elephants were widely harassed in the State and the Captive Elephant Management Rules enacted for its welfare often flouted. There was no mechanism to ensure that the elephants of the State are taken care of properly. Ideally, the government should strictly enforce the rules and initiate stern action against the violators, he said.
Mr. Satheesan said the practice of parading elephants for various functions should be discouraged and phased out. The proposal for renting out the jumbos was neither beneficial to the government nor meant for the welfare of the animals, he said.
P.S. Easa, a member of the Steering Committee of Project Elephant, said the government should focus on rescue and rehabilitation of the animals than attempting to rent them out.
Ideally, the animals should be rehabilitated in conditions akin to their natural habitats. The calves and juveniles should be helped to live in a group so that they develop bondage among themselves and lead a community life. They should also be kept out human contacts for helping them develop kinship among themselves, he said.
Dr. Easa suggested that the young ones should be prepared for sending them back to the wild. Adults in the custody of the department should be kept in environment that was close to elephant habitats, he said.
P.O. Nameer, another member of the Board, felt that the government move would ratify the violation of the Captive Elephant Management Rules.
“It’s a contradiction that the department, which drafted the regulations for protecting the captive elephants, was renting the animals out to private individuals. Every one knew that the captive elephants were widely ill-treated while taken out for processions and festivals. The department should not abet the move to torture the animals. Any such proposal should have been discussed in the Board first before rushing with the government order,” said Dr. Nameer, who is also the Head of the Department of Wildlife Sciences and Centre for Wildlife Studies of the College of Forestry, Kerala Agricultural University.
M.N. Jayachandran of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Idukki, felt that the government was exposing the animals to ill-treatment and harassment at the hands of individuals through the move.
K.P. Ouseph, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), defended the decision, saying the animals need to be socialised for effective control over them in the forest camps and the proposal for renting out them was one such step.
Those animals which are either injured or rescued are brought to the camps. They cannot be released to the wild. They need to be exposed to crowd for disciplining them. The government recently revised the fee, which would serve as a benchmark price for its rent, said Mr. Ouseph.