526 Deaths during the last 15 years in the state due to Captive elephants running amok

Mathrubhumi Malayalam Daily – April 4, 2015, All Editions

– D Ajithkumar

Kottayam: 526 people have been killed by captive elephants running amok in the state over the last  15 years. These figures have been compiled from news reports by K V Venkitachalam, the secretary of the Heritage Animal Task Force.

The latest incident is an elephant owner being trampled to death by his ward in Kottayam district.  The first quarter of 2015 has seen the death of six people due to such unfortunate incidents; these include a retired soldier, a veterinary doctor, an elephant owner and three mahouts (elephant “herdsmen” so to speak).

There are laws to kill man-eating tigers.  Man-eaters have killed only 9 people over the last fifteen years and 5 man-eaters have been shot dead in the same period. However, it is absolutely impossible to even ‘exile’ captive elephants that have killed with alarming regularity.  The authorities wash their hands off by just releasing an order stating that these elephants have to be moved out the respective taluk (Administrative block). This; in the face of demands that the Forest Department should rehabilitate captive elephants that have killed more than one human.

Binoy Vishwam as the minister in charge of Forests in 2003 had brought into effect the Captive Elephant Management Rules under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. These rules have provisions for insurance and compensation for death and damages caused by captive elephants. When mahouts fall victim to these pachyderms, today the only reason for cheer (such as it is), is the insurance and/or compensation that he or his families receive.

The Forest Department has compiled a database of all the captive elephants in Kerala. Details, including ownership details, are coded into a microchip and embedded in individual elephants. When ownership changes, the details on the microchip remain unchanged, and this becomes a very big impediment when victims try to claim insurance or compensation.

A drastic deterioration in the standard of care are causing captive elephants to turn violent.  An elephant on average requires about 250 KGs of fodder and 200 liters of water a day. These gentle animals who are used to the shades of the forests cannot tolerate the heat of the cities and towns. If they are being walked in the sun, the rules are that their bodies have to be periodically hosed down. The rules also state that the carekeeper is supposed to carry the FeedBook. This book details the feeding rules and methods for captive elephants; and these are to be adhered to. None of these rules are being enforced.

Musth, lasting from a few weeks to 3 months, is a periodical change in bull elephants, where their testosterone production increases, and their behaviour becomes aggressive. This is marked by inflamed temporal glands along with a free flow of temporin from the glands. Ironically it is during the period when elephants are in musth that Kerala has the maximum number of temple festivals as well. Elephant experts allege that for this very reason, elephant owners use chemicals to cover the signs of musth, and even inject the poor animals to suppress this biological process.

Musth is the sign of a healthy elephant and suppressing it artificially leads to problems later on, says Chittar Anandan , Deputy Forest Range Officer and author of Aanakazhchayude Kaanapurangal (The Unseen Sights of the  Elephant Business)

It is only when this exploitation of these gentle animals in the name of religion is banned will this cruelty stop says K Binu, the secretary of the Kerala Tree-Environment Protection Committee.


Translated from the original Malayalam by Subrahmanian Santakumar, Managing Committee Member, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre, Bangalore.  subru@india.com


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