THRISSUR: The soaring mercury, a change in diet, lack of physical exercise, new-age measures to control the musth period in elephants during the peak festival season and third-degree handling seem to be taking a heavy toll on captive elephants in the state as the average life expectancy has nosedived to below 40 years from 70 to 75 a couple of decades ago, if the current mortality rate is any indication.
As many as eight elephants have died so far this year; last year, there were 20 deaths, and 26 in 2016. Out of this grim total of 54 elephants, around 80 per cent had been suffering from either ‘erandakettu’ (impaction of colon) diseases or symptoms of the disease. The elephants that died in this period were between 13 and 58 years. It is a clear indication the life expectancy of captive elephants has seen a sharp fall compared to their counterparts in the wild, said V K Venkitachalam, secretary of the Heritage Animal Task Force.
On the other hand, elephants like Kannankulangara Sasi and Thiruvambadi Chandrashekar lived to almost 80. But things have changed with the high demand and competition for the gentle beast in the festival industry that bothers only about profit, he said. Noted veterinarian and elephant expert Dr Jacob Cheeran said the last teeth of the elephant appears only by the time it turns 40; this tooth stays healthy till at least 60.
But it’s very sad to see the elephants falling prey to the high-octane, unhealthy competition in the industry even before they attain their biologically healthy age. According to experts in the sector, palm leaves and coconut leaves are not an ideal diet suited for elephants. Though there were calls to switch to fodder grass and the stem of plantain from the unhealthy diet, which is said to be one of the main reasons for the ‘erandakettu’, the industry was reluctant to change the diet due to various reasons.