KERALA

An ordeal in her twilight years?

White elephant: Maheshwari, the albino elephant, at the Thiruvananthapurm zoo.

White elephant: Maheshwari, the albino elephant, at the Thiruvananthapurm zoo.  

G. Mahadevan

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Ever since she stepped into the Thiruvananthapuram zoo in 1946, the elephant Maheshwari has been the cynosure of all eyes. Back then, there were even some religious undertones ascribed to her capture in the forests of erstwhile Travancore because she was an albino — a white elephant. Now the Central Zoo Authority wants her shifted out.

Some weeks ago, the CZA wrote to all zoos in the country asking them to relocate their elephants to facilities operated by the respective Forest departments. Elephants are kept in cramped enclosures in many zoos and this often caused violent behaviour in them. Moreover, the upkeep of an elephant is an expensive business, reasons the CZA.

However, the city zoo has now written to the State Forest Department that Maheshwari is not physically fit to be transported out of the zoo. “There is a possibility that she may not even survive the trip,” zoo vet Joe Jacob Sebastian said. Maheshwari has a sprawling enclosure in the zoo and she has not displayed any violent behaviour in all her years here.

“She has an abscess on her forelimbs and this needs constant medical attention. Her teeth are worn out and she is on a special diet. Moreover, after all these years she would find it difficult to adjust to a new mahout,” Dr. Sebastian explained. The zoo has another elephant, Rajkumar. This male can easily be shifted out to the Forest Department’s elephant facility at Kottoor, he added.

Though elephants are by no means a novelty in Kerala, the albino has attracted tens of thousands of visitors to the zoo over the years. The May 1946 edition of the ‘Travancore Information and Listener’ magazine published in erstwhile Travancore records that “Cow elephant Maheswari, a recent addition to the Trivandrum Zoological Gardens, has aroused much interest throughout India on account of its having the attributes of a white elephant.” “Maheswari is between ten and twelve years old and she has a height of nearly six feet at the shoulders. A light pink skin, all the hairs over the body except those at the tip of the tail completely white, slightly pink palate, pearl coloured eyes and white toe-nails are the features which distinguish this animal from normal elephants….”

The capture of Maheshwari in 1946 was even linked to the birth of princess Aswathi Thirunal of Travancore on the first day of the Malayalam month of ‘Mithunam’ that year. The capture of a white elephant in Travancore in 1813 was, similarly, linked to the birth of the poet-king Swati Tirunal, the magazine notes.

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