Seven-member Tamil Nadu panel to check all captive elephants

Chief wildlife warden Srinivas R Reddy has formed the committee based on a direction of the Madras High Court.
Image used for representational purpose. (File photo| Express)
Image used for representational purpose. (File photo| Express)

CHENNAI: The state forest department has constituted a seven-member committee to inspect all captive elephants in the custody of temples and private individuals across Tamil Nadu. The committee headed by the additional principal chief conservator of forests (Wildlife) will include a joint commissioner rank officer of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, a veterinarian, state board for wildlife member Antony Clement Rubin, and two animal welfare experts.

Chief wildlife warden Srinivas R Reddy has formed the committee based on a direction of the Madras High Court. Justice GR Swaminathan, who was moved by the plight of elephant Lalitha allegedly abused by her owner for financial gains despite her age and poor health, had directed the secretary of the forest department to inspect all captive elephants. Lalitha does not have a valid ownership certificate. Earlier this year, its owner Sheik Mohamed transported the elephant illegally on a lorry to a temple in Virudhunagar without any transit permit.

While unloading the elephant, it collapsed near the temple. As per the confession of the owner, the elephant has earlier collapsed on December 9, 2022, in Rajapalayam. Justice Swaminathan personally visited Lalitha on February 26 and found multiple wounds on the body. There are 50-odd captive elephants in temples and private custody in the state and the condition of most of them is bad. Last year, another committee inspected 12 of these elephants and found at least 10 violations of the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephant Management Rules, 2011, including lack of proper flooring, roofing of shelters, keeping elephants tied for a long time, marching them on tar roads, making them bless devotees, and using them at crowded events.  

“Time has now come to take a call if elephants in captivity should be shifted to government rehabilitation camps. The secretary to the government, HR&CE department, shall issue a direction to all the temples in Tamil Nadu not to acquire elephants anymore,” Justice Swaminathan said in his order dated February 27.
In September 2021, the first bench of the HC passed orders saying there should be no more acquisition of elephants by private individuals or religious institutions. Justice Swaminathan said the first bench’s order must be strictly enforced.

Antony Clement Rubin, member, state board for wildlife, told TNIE, “The biggest problem is lack of social interaction. None of these elephants have any opportunity to socially interact with other elephants. They get to see another elephant only during rejuvenation camps. Our recommendation was to identify a common place where two or three temple elephants from the same district can be kept together.”  
A study conducted in 2011 revealed that 49% of temple elephants in Tamil Nadu exhibited stereotypic behaviour. Same is the case even now, say activists.

Prakash S of Elsa Foundation, author of the book “Living Conditions of Temple and Private Elephants”  played a role in some of the judgments of Madras HC.

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