KOCHI: In a mammoth step forward to end the plight of captive and wild elephants in Kerala, Union Minister and noted animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has called for setting up an exclusive elephant sanctuary.
On the occasion of ‘World Elephants Day’ on August 12, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development has expressed anguish over the rampant elephant abuse in Kerala temples, which is “unmatched by abuse elsewhere in the world.”
In an email response to ‘Express’, Maneka said the rising incidents of elephant torture and fatal incidents of elephants running amok have forced her to take up the matter with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
“It is sad that people who claim to be religious do this. The temples have killed hundreds of elephants over a period of time.”
Stating holiness cannot go hand in hand with extreme cruelty, she said, it is time for the temples to sanctify themselves and truly become places of worship by letting their elephants
go to sanctuaries, she said. During her meeting with Pinarayi Vijayan at New Delhi a few days ago, Maneka handed over a CD of elephant abuse being held in Kerala.
Additional Chief Secretary Nalini Netto, who is the secretary to the Chief Minister, said the CM has watched the visuals after Maneka sought Pinarayi’s intervention to regulate the recurring elephant torture cases.
According to animal rights activists, the captive elephants in the state killed nine people, including eight mahouts, in 2016. Between 2012 and 2015, as many as 175 captive elephants died due to various reasons, including torture. Setting up of sanctuary in the line of Bannerghetta Biological Park in Bangalore to take care of elephants is the immediate need of the hour and the government should take steps in this regard, said Sangita Iyer, Canada-based wildlife activist. Sangita has recently shot a documentary film on the life of captive elephants in Kerala which was screened in Kerala Assembly.
Besides, even one year after the Forest Department unearthed a poaching racket operational in the state which allegedly killed around 21 wild elephants, the department is yet to submit chargesheet in all the cases, despite recordeding the arrest of 49 persons. According to Forest officials, a total of 88 people were killed in man-elephant conflicts in Kerala during 2009-15, whereas 368 jumbos were found dead due to various reasons in the forests during the same period.
As per officials statistics, 20 elephants were found dead due to unknown reasons, while 28 elephants found dead due to unnatural reasons. The Forests Department was also of the opinion that 285 elephants died of natural reasons.
Among the dead elephants, 15 elephants were electrocuted, while three elephants were fatally knocked down by train and one was killed of poison during the period. The statistics also claim that 15 elephants died of contagious diseases and one rogue elephant was shot down by officials.
However, the poaching racket’s confession that it has killed around 21 elephants during the fag end of this period and subsequent recovery of around 17 elephant carcasses puts the authenticity of official stats under cloud.
The CBI investigation sought into the poaching cases also hangs in balance with the agency not responding to the plea of the state which was forwarded to the Centre in August 2015.