Rescued pachyderms get tender loving care at the Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre near Tiruchi

Rescued pachyderms being fed by their mahouts at the Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in M R Palayam near Tiruchi. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

A small statue of an elephant greets passers-by on the side of the road on the Tiruchi-Chennai National Highway immediately outside of the city limits. Next to the elephant, in dark green, almost matching the colour of the trees that surround it, is a small board announcing the location of the State’s only Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre at Marama Reddy (MR) Palayam.

One has to drive nearly a kilometre away from the highway, through a small gate and a row of hardwood trees to reach a fenced clearing, of about 20 hectares, in the reserve forest area that is expected to be the permanent home of rescued elephants.

The camouflage is intentional, say forest officials. Unlike elephant camps maintained by the Forest Department, where visitors can watch professionals attempt to train, feed and shelter wild elephants, rehabilitation centres are for pachyderms which have been rescued from captivity.

“This isn’t meant for tourists. Elephants are brought here to be treated and to be taken care of. It is not a place of leisure and so, we do not want to treat it like one,” said Chief Conservator of Forests (in charge), Tiruchi Circle, V Thirunavukkarasu.

Getting comfy

The centre’s first resident, a 35-year-old female called Malachi, was rescued in Madurai from a woman who was using her to beg. She was sent to the MR Palayam camp in September following a Madras High Court order.

Three more female pachyderms — Indu, 34, Sandhya, 43, and Jayanthi, the youngest, 22, which were owned by the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt — were brought here after another court directive.

In the weeks that they have spent at the centre, the four elephants have begun to mingle and play together. The mahouts who were responsible for the elephants’ translocation from the NGOs which had rescued them, have been assigned to take care for them at the centre.

Bath time at the Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

Bath time at the Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

Two handlers per elephant watch the elephants throughout the day, says S Sujatha, District Forest Officer, Tiruchi.

A veterinarian from Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University visits the animals every week while a local doctor is available on-call.

Taking it easy

A day in the lives of these pachyderms is like a resort trip. They are taken to a nearby man-made pond to bathe in the morning, and then fed fresh fruit, vegetables, rice, barley and coconuts. This is followed by a ‘stroll’ around the 2600-hectare reserve forest area.

After their walk, the four elephants and their mahouts rest under the specially-made shelter. “A larger concrete stable is also being readied right next to it,” says Sujatha. The elephants eat some more and rest there until it is time for their evening walk and shower. A large shower facility was constructed for them to enjoy after an evening walk. “Initially some of them were hesitant but now all four enjoy it thoroughly,” Sujatha remarks.

Huge responsibility

The elephants consume a total of 250 kgs of fruit and vegetables in one day, aside from the grains.

The centre is also looking to grow some of the food on the grounds, says Thirunavukkarasu.

“Although the amount we are cultivating right now will not last even for one meal, we aim for self-sustenance,” he laughs.

The centre is equipped with surveillance equipment to keep its residents safe. An additional amount of ₹40 lakhs has been sanctioned to install CCTV cameras and additional lights.

The total cost of an elephant’s stay at the centre is pegged at ₹75,000 per month.

The State government has taken up the expenses for Malachi, while the bills for the other three will be sent to the Kanchi Mutt.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 9:36:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/rescued-elephants-get-a-fresh-start-at-this-exclusive-rehabilitation-camp-in-tamil-nadu/article29854758.ece

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