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Elephants are pushed to the limits, say activists

K. Santhosh
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Allege open violation of rules on their participation in fetes

An increasing number of people being killed by elephants in the State indicates serious flaws in captive elephant management and maintenance, animal rights groups say.

According to the Thrissur-based Heritage Animal Task-Force, 361 people have been killed by elephants in the State since 1997. “Currently, 78 elephants that show signs of musth or weakness are being featured in festivals. Elephant owners openly flout a rule that an elephant should not be featured in ceremonies for more than three hours at a stretch,” alleged V.K. Venkitachalam, secretary of the Task-Force.

When a male elephant is in musth, its level of testosterone rises dramatically by a factor of 20 or more. Musth lasts up to 60 days. The temporal gland between the eyes and ears swell and discharge a viscous secretion as the elephant waits for mating. There is continual dribbling of urine too. The elephant shows aggressive behaviour during this period.

Torture

Elephants in musth are allegedly made weak through torture and poor feeding. Mahouts wrongly believe that elephants can be controlled if they are made weak, experts say.

Animal rights activists allege that elephants are made to walk long distances on tarred roads and stand unendingly on concrete surfaces, in violation of rules. As a result, most of the elephants reportedly have pockets of infection under their feet or toenails. Feet are the gauge of an elephant's overall health.

Rules also prohibit “bursting crackers when an elephant is around”. But elephants featured in temple festivals are exposed to high-decibel pyrotechnic displays and this irritates them. Training elephants allegedly involves physical abuse.

When an elephant becomes violent, the public stone the animal, infuriating it more. The crowd had burst into applause when an elephant overturned a lorry at the Sankarankulangara Temple in Punkunnam a few years ago.

According to the Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, elephant owners and mahouts should maintain records of feeding, vaccination and treatment, work and movement. Daily fitness certificate by the panchayat and town veterinary officer is a must when the elephant is being taken from one place to another.

Transport rules

Inter-district transport of captive elephants requires a certificate from the Chief Wildlife Warden. The rules are rarely followed, animal rights groups allege.

In its order on March 14, 2008, the High Court had stated that every elephant should be given rest for 12 hours after being featured in a public function or ceremony. If the elephants are featured in ceremonies between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., they should be made to stand on wet gunny bags, the Court said.

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