In a first, Rajaji Tiger Reserve sets up ‘elephant gym’ to de-stress captive elephants

The gym has been set up to ensure that the six captive elephants, who don’t move much compared to their wild cousins, get some good exercise, remain healthy and cheerful.
Elephants playing with a hanging ball at the new elephant gym inside Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.(HT Photo)
Elephants playing with a hanging ball at the new elephant gym inside Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.(HT Photo)
Updated on Jul 04, 2020 06:58 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Dehradun | ByNeeraj Santoshi | Edited by Arpan Rai

In a first, Rajaji Tiger Reserve Park has set up an elephant gym in the reserve’s Chilla range to de-stress captive elephants that are used for patrolling and monitoring in the reserve, said forest officials.

Amit Verma, field director Rajaji Tiger Reserve said the gym has been set up to ensure that the six captive elephants, who don’t move much compared to their wild cousins, get some good exercise, remain healthy and cheerful.

“In this gym, we have started many activities. We have kept big pipes with holes in it. We keep food like bananas in these big pipes and elephants have to search for the food in them. We have also kept tyres hanging from ropes, big hanging balls and small balls on the ground for three baby elephants,” Verma said.

Watch | Elephants enjoy mud bath, play with balls in Uttarakhand’s ‘elephant gym’

 

He added that the elephants like to play with these hanging tyres and balls. “We have also set up a mud bath heap for these elephants, which they enjoy a lot. Through these activities, we want to ensure that these captive elephants remain active and get some good exercise,” Verma said.

“Such playful activities will ensure that these elephants don’t feel boredom and don’t have to live a sedentary life compared to wild elephants in their natural habitats,” he said

Dr Aditi Sharma, veterinarian at the reserve said, of the six elephants, three are baby elephants who love playful activities like mud baths and playing with balls.

“Separated from their herds, these captive elephants feel boredom and stress in captivity. Because of this, many captive elephants starting moving their heads a lot while standing. With these activities, we want to ensure they move a lot and remain cheerful and active,” Dr Sharma said.

“We have started activities like keeping fruits or fodder in baskets and keep them high on the tree branches. Also, elephants love mud bath heaps, especially in summers. So we have also developed a mud bath heap for them in this gym,” she said.

Dr Sharma added that plans to introduce more activities like wooden toys for the elephants are also in the works. “We will get them prepared from Saharanpur area in Uttar Pradesh, which is known for good woodwork,” she said

Wildlife expert Ritesh Joshi, who is a scientist at conservation and survey division of union ministry of environment and forests and author of ‘Secret Life of Elephants’ said elephants live in matriarchal groups where they take care of each other, especially their young ones.

“When elephants are taken captive and get separated from their matriarchal families, they definitely get affected and stressed in varying degrees. Against this backdrop, I think it is a good experiment that has been started by the management of Rajaji National Park. I hope providing such spaces and introducing them to playful activities helps these gentle giants to get de-stressed”, said Joshi, who has spent many years as a researcher in Rajaji landscape studying elephants.

There are two main elephant bastions in the state-Rajaji and Corbett landscape. According to the latest elephant census released a few days back, there are 2026 elephants in the state, a 29.9% increase since 2012 when there were 1559 elephants in the state

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