Sunder’s pain to free jumbos from chains

July 09, 2014 12:38 am | Updated November 16, 2021 07:03 pm IST - BANGALORE

Margaret Whittaker, an animal behaviourist, is in Bangalore to train mahouts in the Bannerghatta National Park to manage elephants without chains.

Margaret Whittaker, an animal behaviourist, is in Bangalore to train mahouts in the Bannerghatta National Park to manage elephants without chains.

Very soon, elephants in the Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) near Bangalore may soon be free of their drag chain and walk around freely in the 49.5-hectare elephant rescue centre.

As a first step, Margaret Whittaker, an animal behaviourist, has arrived at the BNP to train the mahouts in managing Sunder and other elephants without chains. Sunder, the anguished elephant whose cause was upheld by several celebrities — including Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Pamela Anderson — was brought to the BNP in June this year. The Bombay High Court had ordered the transfer of Sunder to a sanctuary in Bangalore from Wararanagar in Kolhapur after it found that the tusker had been chained and ill-treated at a temple.

Ms. Whittaker, who specialises in elephant behaviour, is renowned for using positive reinforcement techniques and not punishment, a press release issued by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India said. She has been working with animals for the past 16 years and has been working as a behaviour consultant working with zoos and sanctuaries in America, Europe and Asia.

Manilal Valliyate, director of Veterinary Affairs, PETA India, said although Sunder and other elephants were walking around freely in the park most of the time, the drag chain tied to the foreleg led to the feeling that their movement was restricted.

“Even though the elephants walk around the forest area freely, there still is a feeling that they are restricted. So we are trying to work with the park authorities and are helping them transit to a chain-free system for handling elephants,” he said and added that they were working with the park authorities to fence the forested area.

Besides, he also said they were planning to have an enclosure where male elephants could be kept chain-free during musth (period of sexual urge). Meanwhile, the BNP authorities, who were initially sceptical about the challenge as they felt their mahouts were uneducated and their elephants were wild, have now decided to accept the challenge. “In a few months hopefully all of our 15 elephants would be freed from chains,” sources in the park said.

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