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Keeping tabs on elephants electronically

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PROTECTIVE EYE: A mahout leads a calf elephant by the ear to have it ‘micro-chipped’ for identification at an elephant registration camp in the city on Saturday.
PROTECTIVE EYE: A mahout leads a calf elephant by the ear to have it ‘micro-chipped’ for identification at an elephant registration camp in the city on Saturday.

Special Correspondent

Thiruvananthapuram: No festival in Kerala is complete without the majestic spectacle of caparisoned elephants swaying to the frenzied beat of drums and the blare of trumpets. To the casual observer, the pachyderm seems to be relaxed and completely at peace with itself. Very few realise that, behind the visage of calm and poise lies a tale of misery and suffering inflicted by man.

The animals are often the helpless victims of sustained ill-treatment by mahouts and forced labour well beyond endurance limits. Often the heavily-fettered pachyderms are made to walk long distances on tarred roads without adequate food or water to take part in temple festivals in the city and suburbs. According to veterinary experts, elephants should not be made to walk more than 10 km a day.

But now, the district administration has decided to take measures to improve the lot of the helpless pachyderms. A programme has been launched to register all the elephants in the district and keep a strict tab on the condition of their health.

As many as 15 elephants in the taluk were registered on Saturday at a camp organised by the district administration and the forest department at the Thankamma Stadium, Peroorkada. The animals were also implanted with microchips for identification.

According to District Forest Officer Patrick Gomez, the registration is intended to keep a record of the captive elephants and prevent their ill treatment and unauthorised transfer to new owners. “Very often, it becomes difficult to trace the owner of an elephant in distress or one that has undergone severe ill treatment. By ensuring that all elephants are registered, it will become easy to identify the owner and fix responsibility,” he said.

The microchip, the size of a rice grain, is implanted under the skin behind the ear of the animal by using a syringe. The chip contains an identification number that is registered by an electronic reader.

The district administration is planning to issue a notification banning the use of unregistered elephants for festivals. The camp also included a medical check- up for the elephants. The pachyderms were inspected for wounds and other ailments.

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