Another festival season ended in Kerala two months ago with alarming stories of bloodshed by jumbos going wild.
As festival organisers vie with each other to make celebrations grander and colourful by parading pachyderms, calamities of elephant fury are just shooting up.
This season (November- May), such incidents claimed 19 lives — 11 mahouts, four men, two women and two children — and injured more than 400 people.
That’s just the story of the peak festival season, which saw more than 400 elephant fury cases in the state, according to data by Thrissur-based Heritage Animal Task Force.
Its secretary V K Venkitachalam says, “The increasing number of people being killed every season shows something seriously wrong somewhere -- may be in elephant management or maintenance.
” The actual figure could be much higher than this as there are no official records on such calamities.
The authorities even do not have exact data on the number of captive elephants in the state, he adds.
The reasons for the increasing number of such accidents vary.
Animal rights groups say elephant owners and authorities openly flout rules.
By law, an elephant should not stay in a procession for more than three hours at one stretch, but during peak season, owners force elephants to sweat it out for more than 12 hours a day.
On March 14, 2008, the Kerala High Court ruled that every elephant should get rest for 12 hours after being featured at a public ceremony.
If such ceremonies are held between 11 am and 3 pm, the jumbos should be made to stand on wet gunny bags, said the court.
That said, few owners and authorities go by these rules.
Owners often give junk medicine to the elephants during the festival season to suppress musth symptoms.
Elephants under musth are often made weak through torture and poor feeding.
Many mahouts believe a weak elephant is easy to control.
The rent for an elephant for public ceremonies varies from `30,000 to `1,00,000 a day, making it a ‘harvest’ season for owners, contractors and mahouts.
“People often forget that the elephant is a wild animal and that it has its own emotions,” says Dr P B Giridas, a veterinary surgeon based in Thrissur.
V Sasikumar, general secretary of the Elephant Owners Association Federation, says the death rates are inflated.
He, though, admits that there is no mechanism to check recurring cases of elephants going berserk.
But he says the government should allow elephants from neighbouring states to take part in festivals here during the peak season.
A R Sasikumar, District Forest Officer of Thrissur, says the cruelty against elephants would continue as the number of captive elephants has fallen considerably in the state.
But, more and more religious communities have started parading pachyderms at festivals.
Kerala faces a dearth of elephants to meet the demand, he says.