Plight of jumbos throws up an elephantine problem

Amid the hype and hoopla marking World Elephant Day which was observed on Friday, the fate of captive elephants in Kerala presents a sorry spectacle. 

Published: 12th August 2017 01:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th August 2017 09:25 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

THRISSUR: Amid the hype and hoopla marking World Elephant Day which was observed on Friday, the fate of captive elephants in Kerala presents a sorry spectacle. Till August this year, a staggering 17 jumbos had died in the state which works out to nearly two elephants every 30 days during the intervening eight months, according to the Heritage Animal Taskforce (HAT), an NGO, which has championed the cause of pachyderms. Besides, 179 wild elephants had died of various causes, the NGO said quoting various reports. There is also a major discrepancy in the report on elephant population submitted by the government in the Supreme Court two years ago which had put it at 609. However, this has come down to about 540 now as per the latest figures. 

V K Venkatachalam, secretary, Elephant Task Force (ETF), said the condition of captive elephants is really pathetic. This is despite the jumbo owners minting money, especially, during the festival season. The foresters and vets in the Animal Husbandry Department are complicit in the atrocities perpetrated on the animals, he said.  Several of the dead jumbos had been victims of ill-treatment by mahouts. The animals are forced to remain on their feet for hours which takes a heavy toll on their health. Feeding processed food is also a major villain since it gets stuck in the animal’s gut.

Most of the captive elephants which died belonged to the 25-40 age bracket. But there is no mechanism to find how the death occurred. The postmortem is just an eyewash, Venkatachalam said. In many cases the true reason for the death is kept under wraps to protect the owners, who could be fined, he said. Though the Director, Project Elephant, had called for details of elephants which died this year the state government refused to play ball. 

Venkatachalam said there is a State ETF and District ETF consisting of the Forest Secretary, DFO, representative of the mahout and Chief Veterinarians which should be convened every year. However, since 2015 no meeting had been convened, he said. Even in the wake of disturbing number of elephant deaths, hardly any attempts have been made to deconstruct the   issue to get a proper understanding of the actual reasons behind the spate of jumbo deaths.Rajeev Rajan, Chief Conservator of Forests(CCF), Central Circle, said regular checks are  conducted to ensure elephants are treated well. Also, stringent action is being initiated in cases of cruelty to the animals. Rajan said attempts to draw parallels with the veterinary care available in the West will be overdrawn since those are evolved societies.

24 elephants died in ’16
The number of elephants that died in the past three years (2016, 2015, 104) was 24, 26 and 14 respectively. According to V K Venkitachalam, general secretary of the Heritage Animal Task Force, almost all the elephants that died during that period were due to prolonged torture. The elephants that died were in the age group 22-48. The average life expectancy of a captive elephant is 80 under normal circumstances, he said.

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