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Updated: October 11, 2010 19:28 IST

A mutually beneficial plan for mahouts, elephants

Ignatius Pereira
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TOUGH, YET NOT REWARDING: Mahouts can expect better living standards if the recommendations of the ETF are implemented. Photo: C. Suresh Kumar
TOUGH, YET NOT REWARDING: Mahouts can expect better living standards if the recommendations of the ETF are implemented. Photo: C. Suresh Kumar

Not only the captive elephants but even the mahouts stand to benefit much if the recommendations made in the report of the Elephant Task Force (ETF) are implemented. In Kerala this would mean improving the living standards of almost 2,000 mahouts.

The report submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on August 31, 2010 states that the objective of humane care for captive elephants could be achieved by addressing the real anomalies on the ground which include the improving service condition of the mahouts.

The ETF report recommends that mahouts be paid salary on par with the salary of the Forest Guards in the State government service. As per the report, mahouts who look after forest camp elephants should be recruited at the cadre of Forest Guards. On attaining ten years experience they should be promoted as Foresters.

Mahouts in private service need to be paid at par with those in government service. All mahouts should be provided with hardship allowance, accident insurance and bonus for well kept and healthy elephants. At the same time all mahouts in service and the newly-recruited should undergo training from the Forest Department in order to obtain license.

The report suggests the setting up of mahout training schools in the States. Registration of mahouts as trained and licensed elephant handlers will help to curb malpractices present in the system like ignorance of elephant handling and severe abuse to control the animals. Unavailability of trained mahouts due to lack of an established network is the single most important reason for elephant suffering and cruelties at the hands of untrained handlers, the report states adding that there is a need to establish a database of experienced panel of mahouts.

State president of the All Kerala Elephant Workers Union, Babu Paul MLA told The Hindu that he welcomes the recommendations for the mahouts in the ETF report though he has some reservations with regard to recommendations pertaining to parading of captive elephants.

Mr. Paul said that it is high time mahouts are covered by a proper salary system. As of now there is even no proper wage system for the mahouts in Kerala. During the festival season while taking elephants for rituals or parades, each mahout is paid a batta of Rs. 1000 a day.

But at other times they hardly get anything. The average monthly wage of a mahout stands below Rs. 4,000, Mr. Paul said.

Animal rights activist, A.G. Babu said that he also welcomes the recommendation since it can serve to bring about better care for the captive elephants at the hands of the mahouts.

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