N.S. Venkataraman for BeyondHeadlines
Tamil Nadu Government, at the cost of the tax payers, is spending several lakhs of rupees every year in conducting 48 days rejuvenation camp for temple elephants in the state.
It is not possible to know the views of speechless elephants which have been forced to take part in the rejuvenation camp, as to whether they need such camps or they feel that they are compelled to attend the camps against their will.
People are watching with curiosity about the giant animals being forced to enter the camp and then being brought back to the temples to “do their duty” and many people wonder whether the efforts are worthwhile.
The lives of temple elephants are filled with stress, boredom, isolation, physical pain and psychological suffering.
The elephant calves are trapped in clandestine operations by unscrupulous poachers and sold, with forged certification, to elephant owners and thus become captive animals. These animals are then trained using cruel techniques to become temple elephants.
Animals always like to remain free with liberty to move together and stroll wherever they want. When they are brought to the temple duties, obviously such free living opportunities are denied to them.
Such elephants in captivity often survive in harsh conditions. The elephants are plagued by foot sores, dehydration and are prone to injury and illness. These working elephants have no permanent resting place and are often made to work continuously for 12 to 14 hours each day.
Good intention and flawed method
We see the photographs in the media of the elephants being forced to enter into the open lorries for transporting them to the camp site. Sometimes, the elephants are so adamant that the government staff have no alternative other than leaving them and denying them “the rejoice of the camp living”.
Perhaps, the Tamil Nadu government thought that the temple elephants would be given freedom atleast for a few days by taking them to the camps. Instead of helping them, probably such camps would only make them to realize that the freedom would be short lived and they would certainly feel sad when they would be brought back to the temple. One would not know whether we are helping animals by giving them a few days freedom. It is perhaps, similar to the prisoner being released on parole.
Death of elephant Bhavani
It is extremely sad to read about the death of 57 years old Rameshwaram temple elephant Bhavani, which died at the camp site near Mettupalayam, Coimbatore.
The death of a 57-year-old temple elephant has brought to the fore the stress that these gentle animals are often subjected to.
Barely hours before the rejuvenation camp for temple elephants began, 57-year old Bhavani of the Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameswaram died at the camp site in Mettupalayam. Bhavani reached Mettupalayam after more than 13 hours of travel. She was transported after local veterinarians there examined her and certified that she was fit to travel. On arrival at the camp site, the elephant was weighed and veterinarians examined her and prescribed a food chart.
Around 5.30 p.m., the elephant got into river Bhavani and was drinking water in a kneeling position. She remained in the position for more than two hours. Mahouts initially thought that the elephant was enjoying its dip in the water. When she failed to get up, veterinarians and officials found that something was wrong. It was ascertained that the aged and exhausted elephant was unable to get up. Subsequently, she fell on her side in an awkward position complicating efforts to rescue her.
The elephant Bhavani, which had consumed lot of water, was lifted out of the river with the help of a crane. Later, Bhavani was brought to the Forest Department timber depot and marathon efforts by veterinarians to revive her went in vain. The elephant died in the small hours and was taken to Rameswaram for burial near the temple.
(N.S.Venkataraman is a Chemical Engineer from Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu and Director of Nandini Consultancy Centre. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)