A place to chill out for captive jumbos

A rehabilitation centre has been set up at M.R. Palayam near Tiruchi

Published - May 19, 2022 10:22 pm IST

A shower system has been installed at the facility.

A shower system has been installed at the facility. | Photo Credit: M. SRINATH

On a hot summer day, Sandhya, 46 enjoys her bath at a pond, while Rohini, 25, relishes a special diet filled with dates that is fed to her by her mahout. Elsewhere their friends are either swallowing ragi balls or lazing around playfully. That is the typical life at the Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, a first-of-its-kind facility for captive elephants, established in September 2019 in a forest-like atmosphere at M.R Palayam near Tiruchi.

Entry is barred for visitors unlike in other camps where tourists could watch the jumbos being fed and bathed. The reason is that the centre is a retreat for captive elephants, which faced abuse or neglect from its owners. Rohini has been given a special diet as she was weak when she came to the centre, explains a Forest Department official.

The Forest Department has been translocating ill-treated elephants, identified on the basis of information or complaints, to the centre spread over 19 hectares in the Reserve Forest, off the Tiruchi-Chennai National Highway.

These elephants, eight in all, enjoy a leisurely and well cared-for life. Animals that arrived famished have recuperated under the care of a team of mahouts and Forest Department workers led by a Forest Ranger.

Mallachi, 36, was the first inmate to be brought from Madurai. Now, it has the company of Indhu, 38, Jayanthi, 25, Gomathi, 69, Jameela, 63, and Indra, 61, besides Sandhya and Rohini. Gomathi, the oldest, was translocated from the Tiruvidaimarudur temple.

A well-planned daily routine is in place at the facility which has drinking water troughs, a couple of bathing ponds, high-rise thatched shelter for each elephant, a kitchen to prepare diet meals, a veterinary centre, a store room and quarters for the mahouts and ‘kavadis’ (assistants).

The elephants start their day at the crack of down with a walk, guided by their mahouts and befitting their age.

“Having been in solitary confinement for many years, the elephants have well adapted themselves to the natural atmosphere in the reserve forest and developed camaraderie. The centre provides space and freedom for the animals to move around without shackles under the watchful eyes of the mahouts,” says an official.

Gomathi and Jameela have bonded well. So have Malachi, Jayanthi, Sandhya and Indhu who enjoy onje another’s company. “They are all like our children,” says the official.

Nutritious and well-balanced diet is given to each animal in accordance with the advice of a veterinarian who visits every fortnight.

The animals are also fed daily with fruits, vegetables and green fodder, including ‘naanal’ (a grass rich in nutrition and easy to digest). The Forest Department has created a fodder plot on two acres to raise green fodder for the animals. A shower system has been installed for the animals to enjoy a bath daily, besides the periodic mud baths. “The feet of the animals are cleaned regularly by applying neem oil and camphor,” an official said.

The elephants are most likely to spend their lives here. The centre can accommodate up to 20 elephants at a time. The Forest Department has proposed improvements, including the construction of a kraal; improving the elephant walkway and construction of eco-huts for the mahouts on an outlay of ₹4 crore.

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