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Aged elephants in State uncared for

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Pleasure trip:The 37-year-old Sunitha, a trained elephant at Kodanadu Wild Animal Rescue Centre and Elephant Krall, some 60 km from Kochi,
Pleasure trip:The 37-year-old Sunitha, a trained elephant at Kodanadu Wild Animal Rescue Centre and Elephant Krall, some 60 km from Kochi,

K.S. Sudhi

KOCHI: Aged captive elephants are left to die in the State without proper rehabilitation centres.

The elephant orphanage at Kottur, near Agasthyavanam, in Thiruvananthapuram district has failed to develop as desired even three years after its establishment.

The orphanage was set up by the Forest Department with the support of Project Elephant of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to provide shelter for sick and old animals and wild calves that cannot be sent back to the forests.

The project has failed to obtain the approval of the Finance Department, which fears that it will become another white elephant. The department fears that the maintenance of elephants owned by private owners will be a drain on the exchequer. The objection of the Finance Department has also stalled the formation of a semi-autonomous society for running the orphanage.

A few captive elephants were released to the enclosures at the orphanage during the time of its inauguration so that they can lead a chain-free life there. The centre can accommodate 30 animals at a time.

The original scheme was to admit aged elephants in possession of the private owners, along with those owned by the government. It is estimated that it would require around Rs.4 lakh for feeding one animal.

Presently, there is no provision for sourcing funds from donors and agencies for the orphanage. If the society could be formed, it would have helped in sourcing the funds required for taking care of the animals, forest officials said.

The orphanage could even generate some funds using eco-tourism programmes like elephant safari. The formation of the management committee under the society is a pre-requisite for introducing such schemes, they said.

Kerala is home to around 900 captive elephants, the highest number in the country. It is estimated that around 20 per cent of the captive elephant population is aged and there is no effective system for rehabilitating the aged and injured ones in the State.

Unlike other projects, the orphanage project is flush with funds as it is a centrally sponsored project. Of the Rs. 75 lakh sanctioned by the Project Elephant authorities last year, only Rs. 45 lakh was spend.

The balance amount would be carried over for the next fiscal. Moreover, the orphanage is expected to get another Rs. 75 lakh from the Project Elephant fund this year, officials said.

The Forest department is planning to approach the Finance Department once again through proper channel for approval of the project, forest officials said.

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