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No end to jumbo fury

Every year a tragedy unfolds in Kerala, which is called a land of festivals. The festival season (February-April) has only begun and three persons have already been trampled to death by temple elephants, which went berserk during separate processions.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2009 23:35 IST
Ramesh Babu

Every year a tragedy unfolds in Kerala -- a land of festivals. The festival season (February-April) has just started and two persons have already been trampled to death by temple elephants trained to participate in the festivities.

A partially blind tusker ran amok at the Ernakulam Shiva temple last Friday, trampling a woman to death and injuring 15 others seriously. Two days later a mahout (trainer) was killed by another jumbo in Kunnamkulam near Thrissur.

Last year, most national TV channels had shown live footage of an elephant killing three persons inside a temple. Sixteen people had fallen prey to jumbo fury last year.

The biggest attraction of the state is now a cause for concern. The gentle giants seem to be turning into rogues, often goring people and destroying property. In Kerala, there is a big demand for elephants during the festival season. No festival goes without an array of caparisoned elephants. With a steady increase in number of festivals, casualties are also going up. There are around 700 captive elephants in the state and about 60 per cent of them are trained to perform during festivities. These hapless animals are often rushed from one spot to another to enable their owners to pocket maximum returns.

Two days ago, the temple town of Aranmula (in central Kerala) had observed a shutdown for an unusual cause. Devotees of the Parthasarathi temple alleged that temple tusker ‘Gaja Kesari Mohan’ was tortured to death by its mahouts. Veterinarians later found deep wounds on the dead elephant. This is not an isolated case.

Strict rules exist for captive elephant management but most of them remain only on paper. The government had recently strengthened the captive elephants’ maintenance act to curb the animal’s plight but it failed to bring about the desired results. Greedy keepers grease palms of police and forest officials and flout the norms.

“It is a big paradox that we worship elephants inside temples and ill-treat them outside. No Hindu scripture says elephants should be used for temple festivals. It is high time to heed their desperate trunk calls,” Hindu Aikyavedi general secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan said.

Animal lovers have been calling for a blanket ban on elephant processions but their voices are always drowned. “To pocket maximum seasonal revenue, owners and mahouts flout all the norms. At times they even suppress them by administering injections on the poor animal,” lamented V.K. Venkitachalam, secretary of the Elephant Lovers’ Association. A recent study showed that about 80 per cent of the mahouts are habitual drinkers.

“The government’s role is limited here. The initiative should come from various temple committees. I agree, no rituals demand the poor animals’ presence. It is in fact torture,” agreed State Forest Minister Biony Viswam.