Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Temple elephants need ‘humane’ treatment

Pramila Krishnan
Chennai, June 10: Maduravalli (60), elephant belonging to Koodal Alagar Perumal temple in Madurai, suffers from severe foot rot and has developed joint pain. She is obese and has been undergoing weight reduction treatment. Thanjavur temple elephant, Vellaiammal, aged around 65, also suffers similar health disorders and added to that she is struggling to manage bedsores that she developed from lying on a rough concrete floor. Veterinarians, who treated Maduravalli and Vellaiammal, conducted periodical medical check ups and recommend change in diet and maintenance by the temple authorities. Medical experts who have treated temple elephants observe that many elephants die because of poor maintenance and negligence of temple authorities in providing natural ambience and nutritious food to the holy animal.

A recent social interaction session organised by researchers among three different groups of elephants - temple elephants, zoo elephants and captive elephants - revealed heart-wrenching stories of cruel treatment to temple elephants in India. Researchers, who studied some 267 elephants, including 67 temple elephants from Tamil Nadu, found that more than 60 per cent of temple elephants did not like to interact with other elephants. While the zoo elephants were quirky and mischievous and the captive elephants were engaged in talking with their tribe, the temple elephants remained withdrawn. The experts said since temple elephants are kept all alone for years together, they have no inclination to interact and failed to mix with other elephants. Even worse is that temple elephants did not show interest in mating though the experts set up a conducive environment for the cow and bull elephants.

The study states that temple elephants are forced to learn at least 50 commands in languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Urdu. They bless devotees some 2,000 times during festivals. As per the study, food provided by devotees includes fruits, coconut, ghee, rice and other unnatural food - sweets, biscuits and chocolates. This leads to obesity and indigestion when the devotees feed elephants with unwashed hands. Researchers say that on average the chain tied to the legs of the elephants weighs close to 50 kgs.

Environmentalists and animal rights activists across the country have been raising their voice against keeping elephants in temples to bless devotees and to carry out rituals for temple deities.
Raman Sukumar, member of Project Elephant Steering Committee of the government of India, said since temples get huge donations, they take good care of elephants. “Elephant is a highly socialising animal and lives in large families. Keeping the elephant in solitary spaces affects their interaction skills, which could be termed as behavioural cruelty,” he said. He added that when temple authorities want to keep an elephant, they should take adequate care to provide natural food substitutes; provide opportunity for elephants to interact with other elephants. “Enough space should be provided for elephants to move around instead of being chained to a close circuit that prevents their movement,” said Sukumar.

When contacted Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department Commissioner P.Dhanapal about improving maintenance for temple elephants he said, “These days temple elephants receive good care. Veterinary doctors check the elephants every month and ensure they are healthy. Annual rejuvenation camp is conducted every year for elephants to protect them.”