COIMBATORE: The sheer joy of learning that the ailing female elephant was in fact pregnant and delivered a healthy male calf early on Monday was rather short-lived among activists and experts, who asked pointed question about the handling of the animal when it was immobile.
Last Thursday, the elephant that is estimated to be about 40 years old was found weak and immobile near Anuvavi Subramanyasamy Temple in Thadagam, from where it was taken to Chadivayal elephant camp near Kovai Coutralam.
At around 4.30 am on Monday, the forest staff posted to monitor the condition of the elephant alerted forest range officer C Dinesh Kumar and veterinarian NS Manokaran about it delivering the calf in a lying position.
Even as the officials watched it from a distance, the elephant delivered a healthy calf without any assistance from the men. Officials said both the mother and calf elephants are healthy.
However, before the celebrations were over, activists pointed out that the officials including the veterinarian had so far maintained that the elephant had some stomach ailment, and raised a series of pertinent questions: Why were the forest veterinarians not aware that the elephant was pregnant? How could the forest department allow the animal to be lifted using belts and crane? Why was the animal in such a condition taken to the camp that lies over 35 kms away?
“Initially, forest veterinarians did not consider the pregnancy factor due to its age. So they lifted the sick elephant using crane, as there were no other option to lift it before transporting it to the camp at Chadivayal,” according to R Mohammad Saleem from the Environmental Conservation Group (ECG).
After the controversy erupted, veterinarian NS Manokaran, who was maintaining that the animal was suffering from a stomach ailment for which it was being treated, took a U-turn, claiming that he was aware that the animal was pregnant. He, however, added that they were not sure which stage of pregnancy it was.
“We knew that the female elephant was pregnant, but the pregnancy period of a female elephant is between 18 to 22 months. So we did not know which stage of pregnancy it was and when it would give birth. But the animal is improving following treatment,” Manoharan said.
According to him, the forest officials were informed about the pregnancy and the need for special care during treating her. There was disturbance from the large gathering on public, there is no lights and a lot of wild elephant movement at Thadagam. It was hence decided to transport it to Chadivayal camp as part of precautionary measures, he said. “That is why when we lifted it using cranes, the belt was tied in such a way that there was no pressure on its stomach,” Manokaran added.
But these explanations have not satisfied the activists who charge that this could have been yet another case of elephant deaths if not for the miraculous birth.
Manokaran was caught in a controversy earlier this year after the death of the wild male elephant, a rogue which the locals named Madukarai Maharaj’, following its capture and translocation. Animal experts had alleged then that the elephant died due to tranquiliser overdose. He was also part of the team that in 2012 captured a weak and starving tiger, which later died in custody. A year prior to that, an elephant that was tranquilised so as to fit a radio collar on it, died soon afterwards.
In this case, fortunately, the worst seems to be over for the mother, who finally stood on its own after the delivery, with the help of a trained elephant at the camp. She is now being given special diet like special rice, green gram, ragi balls, nutrients and vitamins. Officials added that they will closely monitor the health of the mother and its calf for two more days.