Rusty tuskers run amok at the slightest of provocation

Soaring mercury, workload also make them go berserk as peak festival season begins

March 13, 2022 08:30 pm | Updated 08:30 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

It seems captive elephants in the State are finding it difficult to get fully out of the two-year pandemic-induced ‘wilderness’ as the peak festival season has begun.

Around 20 instances of elephants running amok have been reported in the State, especially in Thrissur, Palakkad and Ernakulam districts, in March alone, though not many casualties have been reported in this connection.

P.B. Giridas, government veterinary surgeon and member of the Animal Welfare Board, told The Hindu that after a two-year gap, the State had been hosting festivals in all pomp and grandeur. However, the captive elephants being paraded had been turning restive even at the slightest provocation at many of these festival venues. This was mainly due to three three reasons, he said.

First, the soaring temperature was having an effect on the animals. “Second, the elephants should be introduced to the sounds and fury of the festival venues in a gradual manner as they have been in an ‘inactive mode’ for the past two years. Third, the demand for elephants has been growing every year, putting pressure on the available jumbos,” said Mr. Giridas.

Inexperienced mahouts

Further, things take a turn for the worse when elephant owners entrust the elephants to relatively less experienced mahouts. “When they lost business at the peak of the pandemic, a good number of owners reduced the number of mahouts — normally each elephant will have three mahouts — as part of cost cutting. Now many have entrusted the elephants to relatively less experienced mahouts, complicating the situation. An analysis of the profile of elephants that went berserk gives a clear picture on this,” said V.K. Venkitachalam, secretary of the Heritage Animal Task Force.

Increasing demand

The workload on the elephants can be judged from the number of elephants available in the State now. The State had around 521 elephants as per the jumbo census in November 2018. But after the census, 75 elephants died, reducing their number to 446. “There is a great mismatch between the number of jumbos and the demand for tuskers, especially during the peak festival season of March-April. The district monitoring committees, empowered by the Supreme Court, that decide on all matters related to parading of elephants should more proactively take stock of the situation and make necessary interventions for the welfare of the elephants,” said M.N. Jayachandran, member, Animal Welfare Board.

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