THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It seems the time is up for the state government to seriously intervene and end the love-hate relationship between the elephants and mahouts in Kerala. The state government is now mulling a training programme for the mahouts by world-renowned experts in order to improve their relationship with elephants, which has been a major concern for the state. The sour relationship between mahouts and elephants often results in bloodshed and human causalities in the festival venues of the state.
Speaking to Express, a senior officer in the state government said there is already one foreign organisation - Voice for Asian Elephants - which has approached the state seeking permission to work with the government. The state has given them the nod to work with Devaswoms and private elephant owners. It is necessary to foster a good relationship between elephants and mahouts as it has more implications in the modern time, he said.
Sangita Iyer, founder and president, Voice for Asian Elephants Society, who shot the Gods in Shackles movie, winning accolades both inside and outside the country, said unlike in the past when mahoutry was considered a well-respected profession, passed down from generation to generation, the rush to mint money has set a lot of unhealthy precedents in the industry. Elephants are often denied food, water, shelter and rest as the owners and brokers, and even temples, want to make maximum profit. During the rush, both mahouts and elephants become exhausted because they are overworked.
And sadly, mahouts take their frustrations on the hapless elephants who suffer silently.
“So, it is important to educate people and mahouts alike about the true nature of elephants and their biological and ecological significance. Once these basics have been imparted, then training the mahouts would be more effective,” she said. A lot of positive options are available for compassionate treatment of elephants. Positive reinforcement entails rewarding the elephant for following the commands.
They are highly intelligent and sensitive animals, and therefore they can be easily trained. There are also physical and mental enrichment exercises that elephants require. “Even if they are tethered in an area, the shackles can be longer, and rather than feed them in the traditional manner, perhaps hiding the food in a higher area will give them the opportunity to stretch their bodies, and think about ways to retrieve their food,” she said.
However, when the organisation tried to help one prominent temple in central Kerala by bringing two world-renowned experts to help change the age-old cruel practices, the authorities were a bit worried over the move. “We have absorbed the costs pertaining to this training, and our team is willing to generously share our expertise and time. However, despite the permission granted by a government, this temple said they already have an expert committee. When inquired, we realised this expert committee hasn’t met in a long time,” she said.Additionally, the chairman of this temple is hardly aware of the pathetic plight of the elephants, and the board members seem to be more concerned about the devotees and their sentiments.
“Our goal is to bring world class experts to teach positive reinforcement methods, foot care training and practices that will offer physical and mental enrichment for elephants. “We are ready to work with temples, or private owners willing to be transparent and implement proven techniques even in our absence. We want to work with owners who sincerely care about elephants, but simply don’t know what to do and how to care for the elephants. We are here to help the elephants, the mahouts, the private owners and the temples,” Sangita said.
Time to change?
- Last year 34 elephants were tortured to death,
- In 2019, four elephants, five mahouts and two seniors have already died