PALAKKAD: An increase in the frequency of deaths of captive elephants has prompted jumbo lovers to ask two key questions. Without enough festivals in the last two years, have the elephants contracted diseases or developed fitness issues? Were the owners able to feed them properly due to a dearth in revenue?
Mangalamkunnu Haridas, who lost two of his elephants Rajan and Gajendran in as many days, said the captive jumbos were mostly idling in the last two years due to lack of festivals. “Captive elephants need exercise. Mahouts take them out for one or two rounds of walk, but that is not enough,” said Haridas.
“We usually employ three persons for each elephant. Other than what we pay them, the mahouts get money from the temple committees. Since there were no festivals, the mahouts’ income too declined and many of them lost interest,” said Haridas.
“Then there’s the stubborn attitude of the forest department. Despite Covid waning, they don’t want to give permission for more than one elephant for ezhunnellippu,” he added. Forest veterinary surgeon David Abraham said: “I don’t treat captive elephants, hence I can’t comment much on them. But I know that most of them are facing age-related ailments.”
A senior veterinary surgeon with Animal Husbandry Department (AHD), who does not want to be named, said: “In the past, we used to organise a health camp for captive elephants at the Indira Gandhi Stadium ground. Once 34 of them were subjected to a health checkup there. In the wake of Covid, with owners’ income waning and the jumbos idling, the forest department and AHD should organise a clinic for the captive elephants in the state.”
Mahouts say they are finding it tough. “Normally an elephant has three mahouts and our daily wage varies from Rs 500 to Rs 800 depending on category. During festivals, the temple committees give us Rs 3,500 daily which we distribute among ourselves. The committees also take care of the palm leaves and other feed of the jumbos. But we’ve been struggling for the last two years. It’s utter penury,” said a mahout.
“Both captive and forest elephants are facing extinction. Sadly, there are no scientific studies to protect the lives of both,” said Elephant Lovers’ Forum president Haridas Machingal.
27 captive elephants died this year alone in Kerala
420 is the total number of captive elephants in the state
284 forest elephants died in Palakkad in the past three years
5,706 is the wild elephant population in Kerala forest as per 2017 census