Tamil Nadu

Kumki ‘blinded’ by mahout’s assistant at Theppakadu

Cheran, a kumki elephant at the Theppakadu camp, was blinded by a ‘kaavadi’, or assistant to its mahout, on May 17.

The elephant, aged around 35, has been used in many operations to capture or drive away wild elephants in the Western Ghats. It had already lost sight in one eye and depended on the left eye for vision, officials said.

It has been alleged that Cheran was being given commands at the camp in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) when the injury occurred.

Activists have alleged that mahout Ravi had informally handed over the responsibility of training the elephant to a person who was known to him, but not on the payroll of the Forest Department. But MTR Field Director K.K. Kaushal dismissed the charge. He said it was the assistant to the mahout that had inflicted the injury on the elephant.

“The incident happened on May 17 and a report has been filed. Disciplinary action has been initiated against the forest staff in question, and strict action will be taken,” he said.

It is unclear if the injury has rendered Cheran blind. “I will be conducting a thorough investigation, and veterinarians will also ascertain the severity of the injury and see if any course of treatment can be provided to restore eyesight to the animal,” Mr. Kaushal said.

The injury has again raised questions about the treatment of captive elephants at Theppakadu. In September 2019, John, a captive elephant at the camp, was videotaped being hit by mahouts, who were seen throwing sticks and stones at the animal to control it.

The Forest Department has maintained that it is one of the most humane elephant camps in the country, with captive elephants enjoying a much better quality of life than anywhere else.

A conservationist from the Nilgiris said some force is required to keep any elephant under control.

“At the end of the day, elephants are wild animals, which can only be controlled and trained by use of force... Kumkis, especially, are treated very harshly to obey complex commands so that they can be used in operations by the Forest Department. It is very important for people to remember that all captive elephants, which are in camps and temples, are kept in check with at least some kind of force, and at times, the use of such force can lead to injuries. These are moral and philosophical questions, which are connected to keeping elephants in captivity,” he said.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 8:00:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/kumki-blinded-by-mahouts-assistant-at-theppakadu/article34981494.ece

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