In what seems to be an act of reprisal, an elephant romped its mahout to death after it was subjected to continued harassment and deprivation by the caretaker here late on Monday night.

The incident took place in the Daraganj area of the City. Before the animal could be harmed-as locals thought it went insane-wildlife officials rushed to the spot.

V.K Tarzan, wildlife inspector for the Peoples for Animals (PFA), an animal welfare organization, helped bring the animal under safety and control.

Pointing out that the animal must have been poorly treated by its mahout, Mr. Tarzan said, "Had the animal gone mad it would have harmed others as well. When an elephant gets disturbed, it can easily harm 20-25 people and damage vehicles. But in this case it stopped after attacking the mahout."

The mahout did not feed the animal well and would buy liquor after selling the elephant's feed, a local said.

While it is common for elephants to attack people, including the mahout, this case brings to light the rampant fake registration by elephant owners.

According to a government notification issued three years ago, all States are instructed to make it necessary for elephant owners to obtain licenses. However, the norms are easily flouted and the animals exploited, says Animal Welfare Board of India official Prem Kumar Patel.

"This is a problem prevalent across the country. If one mahout has a license, 10 others will use his name to fake registrations. This is exposed during free medical checkups, when strangely all the sick elephants belong to the same person," he told The Hindu.

In this case too, the owner of the elephant did not have a valid license. So, the elephant might be transferred to a zoo in Lucknow or Lakhimpur Kheri. In Uttar Pradesh and much of North India, elephant owners earn hefty sums by renting out their animals to marriage processions.