With more than 50 per cent of the 300 temple elephants in Tamil Nadu suffering from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, authorities have drawn up a food and exercise regimen for the jumbos and directed the mahouts to strictly follow it.

An official of the Tamil Nadu government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department said the plan had been drawn up to ensure proper care of the elephants.

It has been made compulsory for the mahouts to take elephants in their care for a six km walk daily and also provide them shower bath twice a day in places where there was no pond or lake or river, to improve their health.

“Some mahouts are being trained at the Vandalur Zoo on the outskirts of Chennai,” he said.

A menu for the temple elephants had also been suggested and it includes 250 kg of grass, 50 kg of mango, neem or banyan leaves, seven kg of rice, 1.5kg of green gram, 1.5 kg of oats, 1.5 kg of jaggery, 100 gm salt, 25gm turmeric powder, 350 litres of drinking water, and 12 bananas.

In addition to this, 3.5 litres of coconut oil, one kg of Ashta choornam (ayurvedic powder), 50 gm dry ginger and pepper, 3.5 kg chyavanpraas (Ayurvedic tonic) and 28 multi—vitamin tablets were also to be given.

“Recently we have started feeding three kg of rice flakes and 400 gms of dates also, to keep the blood of the elephants pure,” he said.

The health condition of the elephants had started deteriorating after the “special camp for elephants to rejuvenate their health” was stopped four years ago, the official said.

Besides, temple authorities had been instructed not to allow the temple elephants bless devotees following the advice of the veterinary doctors that they could catch infection from devotees.

The jumbos take part in all temple festivals. Part of their job include transporting cans of water for poojas.

Costs of maintaining the elephants had also gone up with the food bill coming around Rs. 30,000 a month per elephant, compared to the Rs. 16,000 to Rs. 18,000 two years ago.

The medicine cost would come to Rs. 3000 a month and the mahout’s salary around Rs. 7000 on an average. The cost would be brought down a bit if donors provide food for the elephants for a day or two, the official said

The government had sanctioned up to Rs. Five lakh for each temple to put up a shower, and also fill the temple shed with grass and sand to present a sort of forest ambience for the elephants, a Government veterinary doctor said.

Elephants prefer sleeping on a sand bed than a granite surface, he said.

Padmanabhan, Joint Commissioner and Executive officer of Sri Meenakshi temple, said a medical check-up has been ordered for the temple elephants once a fortnight.

Officials said doctors checking the elephants regularly were confident of their health improving.