KOCHI: The pageantry, splendour and vibrancy of temples have always caught the imagination of tourists visiting Kerala. However, the story of ill-treatment and cruelty to elephants beneath the pomp and glory of festivals go unnoticed.
They are carted from place to place in open trucks, made to walk on tarred roads and endure long hours of noisy parades amidst the din of fireworks. In what could be an indication of the increasing demand, Mangalamkunnu Ayyappan, a captive elephant registered in Palakkad district, was subleased by a temple committee for a whopping Rs 9.5 lakh for a single day.
"Despite the government imposing stringent restrictions on transfer of elephants on lease, the animals are exploited and tortured by the money-grubbing lease holders. Most of the 520 captive elephants in Kerala are leased out by the original owners for a period of one year. The fee for parading an elephant in a temple festival for a day ranges from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. The people who take the animal on rent make it work overtime to get maximum profit. For important festival days, they conduct an auction and hand over the animal to the highest bidder. I have decided to approach the Income Tax Department seeking an inquiry into the incident," said Heritage Animal Task Force (HATF) secretary V K Venkatachalam.
M A Haridas, owner of the elephant claimed the auction happened during the last Meena Bharani festival.
"The elephant was taken on rent by the festival committee of a temple in Thrissur. They gave the elephant on rent to another temple without informing us. As the amount was remitted to the temple renovation account we didn't oppose. But the Elephant Owners' Association has given strict instructions to people who take elephants on lease not to sublease the animals," he said.
Captive elephants are considered wild animals under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and using them for commercial activities is a crime, said A G Babu, member of the Elephant Monitoring Committee for Ernakulam and Kottayam districts. "This is a marketing technique employed by elephant owners to tack up the rent for elephants. According to the MoEF notification issued in 2003, ownership of elephants can be transferred only by hereditary rights. Only a few elephant owners in Kerala possess ownership certificates. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) has issued a circular to test the testosterone level of elephants paraded in festivals and to test the urine and dung of the animals to ensure they are not suffering from diseases.
Such steps will help reduce the elephants torture," he said. We have noticed the report regarding leasing and subleasing of elephants. There is no information of animal torture.
We will check whether there is any violation of the rules and initiate appropriate action," said Assistant Conservator of Forests (Social Forestry) a Jayamadhavan.