Uttarakhand’s ailing elephant with capped toe has experts, activists divided
Veterinarians who treat the animal at the Ramnagar forest division say Lakshmi is under a lot of pain and distress, due to infection in one of her front toe nails, sustained after an injury.
The plight of a 55-year-old injured and aging elephant, seized by the state authorities from various private parties following a Nainital High Court order last year, has divided wildlife experts and activists on the relevance of providing extra care and attention to the suffering animal.
Veterinarians who treat the animal at the Ramnagar forest division say Lakshmi is under a lot of pain and distress, due to infection in one of her front toe nails, sustained after an injury. The pain has also made the animal aggressive in its behaviour towards mahouts and staff, say the doctors. The toe nail has been capped to avoid further infection.
Then on March 24, Lakshmi fell unconscious, requiring the staff to engage the service of a crane to get the elephant back to its feet.
Dushyant Kumar, veterinarian, Corbett Tiger Reserve, who is looking after Lakshmi said the animal might develop tumour. “There’s exposition of adipose tissue through nail cuticle. Exposition is a severe condition which may lead to tumor. Presently, it’s causing severe pain.”
Meanwhile, the divisional forest officer (DFO) wants the animal to be shifted to a private elephant care centre in Uttar Pradesh, but the idea may not feasible as the department does not have ownership rights over the animal.
“No one except me or my staff knows how much pain the elephant is going through,” said BP Singh, DFO, Ramnagar. “We do not have the requisite infrastructure to provide treatment to the animal. We have been consulting WII, IVRI, Pantnagar University, but the animal needs to be shifted to a place with high-end services for treatment,” Singh said.
“But we do not have ownership rights, we are keeping the elephant in our custody, temporarily as per the high court order,” Mounish Mullick, chief wildlife warden said.
The department spends close to Rs 8 lakh a month, on the seized elephants, by way of salaries for mahouts, security staff, and logistics.
Said Pradeep K Mallik, senior scientist, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun “The situation is beyond the expertise of veterinarians now,” said Mallik. “There is an immediate need to invite a dedicated team of experts.” Adding on he said that Uttarakhand forest department had been forthcoming in training vets, but this situation needs a team of dedicated experts.
Wildlife activists, however, remains divided on whether or not the animal should be provided special care.
“The elephant is old. We should stop worrying about it now,” said AJT Johnsingh, a wildlife ecologist and activist. “Had it been a young elephant of 20-25 years, then it would have been worth trying to save it. But, this one is already too old to save,” said Johnsingh.
However, Gauri Maulekhi, an animal rights activist disagreed.
“The animals are where they should be and must be given the highest possible care by the Uttarakhand Forest Department. The amount spent on treatment and care of the elephants should be recovered from the accused persons from whom the elephants have been seized,” said Maulekhi. “Surprisingly, the DFO Ramnagar has not asked for any such amount from the accused till date,” she said.
K Ullas Karanth, director, Bangalore-based Centre for Wildlife Studies said, “The care provided to captive elephants in India by both government or private parties are poor. This practice of having captive elephants should be phased out,” he said.