3 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B. R. Haran

Elephant Mariappan of Samayapuram

B. R. HaranWe now turn to see how captive elephants experience a life of isolation, pain and suffering due to lack of infrastructure and the cruelty and torture perpetrated by mahouts, which often lead to their deaths. – B. R. Haran

Samayapuram Mariamman Temple Elephant 

‘Mariappan’ was a male elephant serving at the famous Mariamman Temple at Samayapuram near Trichy. Temple authorities have kept him chained by three legs since 2002; the chains were ‘oxidised’, that is, a bit poisonous and they affect the legs of elephants. Mariappan could not move a single step in any direction. He was maintained so until 2011. His sufferings made local people and animal rights activists protest, after which his shackles were removed and he was shifted to Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur near Chennai.

His suffering led to the formulation of the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2011 (pdf).

Elephant Andal at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam

Srirangam Temple Elephant 

The infrastructure at Srirangam Temple is so bad that the shelter provided to female elephant ‘Andal’ is of poor quality. It is unhygienic, dirty and one can find unused utensils garbage inside her shelter. She stands in her own urine and dung and she is fed in the same place. Her legs are also tied up with oxidized chains. The shelter has been divided in to two portions and the other portion is used by the mahout.

Elephant Parvathi at the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple

Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple Elephant

Female elephant ‘Parvathi’ serves in Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. Her small shelter is not properly ventilated and there is no fan, no free air circulation. Her legs are also tied with oxidized chains. Construction materials are dumped inside and occupy a considerable amount of space in her shelter.

The temple also keeps a camel, which looks lean and frail. It stands on an unhygienic place, has a lot of injuries and raw open wounds all over its body.

The AWBI representative was resisted by temple officials while taking photographs.

 Elephant Akila of the Jambukeswarar Temple at Thiruvanaikaval

Thiruvanaikkaval Temple Elephant

Female elephant ‘Akila’ serving in the famous Thiruvanaikkaval Temple, near Trichy, is 13 years old. Her mahout cares for her very well. A group of ‘Sivan Adiyars’ (Shaivite bhaktas) visit the temple daily and help in the maintenance of goshala and the elephant.

However the infrastructure is not good. Akila’s shelter is poorly maintained. Construction materials and wastage are spotted around the shelter, and it has a poorly maintained thatched roof. HR & CE Rules have also been violated.

Elephant Devayanai of the Murugan Temple at Thiruchendur

Thiruchendur Temple Elephant

The Thiruchendur Murugan Temple, where the male elephant ‘Kumaran’ died a painful death, also has the services of a female elephant, ‘Devayanai’. Her three legs are chained. The concrete floor is very rough and unsuited for an elephant. The mahout uses stones to rub and clean her skin while bathing her, causing it to pale in some places. Pigmentation and injury marks are seen on her legs and body.

Elephant Dharmambal of Thiruvaiyaru

Thiruvaiyaru Temple Elephant

Female elephant ‘Dharmambal’, 43, serves in Aiyarappan Temple, Thiruvaiyaru. Her legs are chained; she is not being fed properly and she has lost weight and looks very weak. Wrinkles are seen on her face and body, which makes her look very old. Her shelter is not adequate and rules are violated.

Elephant Kalyani at Patteeswaram

Patteeswaram Temple Elephant

Patteeswaram, near Kumbakonam is very famous for its Durga Temple. ‘Kalyani’ is a female elephant serving there. She is provided with a concrete shelter and her legs are chained. Injury marks are visible on her legs. After returning from the Thekkampatti Rejuvenation Camp held in January 2016, scratches and injury marks caused by glass bottles are seen all over her body.

Her shelter is located adjacent to the main road. So, she has to suffer the hustle and bustle of perennial traffic snarls. Although the mahout is employed on daily wages, he takes care of her well. However, the shelter provided to her has violated HR & CE Rules.

Elephant Gomathi of the Mahalingaswami Temple in Thiruvidaimarudur

Thiruvidaimarudur Temple Elephant

‘Gomathi’ is a female elephant serving in the famous Mahalingaswami Temple in Thiruvidaimarudur, near Kumbakonam. Her mahout is merciless and has been torturing her from the beginning. Gomathi, undergoing pain and suffering at his hands, was so traumatized that she trampled upon a bhakta once, in a fit of rage, 2009. Since then, she has been kept chained in a hell hole.

This has irregular concrete flooring which slopes from both the sides with a horizontal space of just two feet in the middle. Her legs are chained and the chains are less than one foot in length. So, she cannot move either backward or forward. She cannot move sideways and if at all she attempts to move sideways, she will slide down and injure herself as the floor slopes from both sides. There are just two small windows which do not bring the required sunlight. Gomathi has been living like this for most part of the day since 2009!

Although the temple authorities feel she has been affected mentally, they have not bothered to take any steps for her treatment or rehabilitation. The mahout’s torture continues as the temple management has not bothered to restrain him. The HR & CE Department, which earns huge revenue from the temple, has demanded Rs. 3 lakhs from Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam Mutt, which maintains the temple, to shift Gomathi to the forest department. The Adheenam, which has 10 big temples under its management, says it cannot afford so much money.

Committee member Radha Rajan visited Mahalingaswami Temple on her inspection tour. Shocked at the hell hole, she called Gomathi passionately through the grills of the iron gate; Gomathi, alone and suffering in the dark, banged her head against the wall and kept banging. Here is a gentle being yearning for love and affection for years, banging her head against the wall on hearing a passionate call!

Privately-owned Elephant at Samayapuram

Captive Elephants with Private Owners   

Apart from circus houses and temples, elephants are in captivity with some private owners also. We were surprised to see the ‘status’ of such private owners and cannot understand how they are able to feed and maintain such a huge animal. We do not know if they have acres of lands growing sugarcane and maize, or, they keep elephants by feeding just a handful of baby corn. It is a paradox how they get to own an elephant!

Let us see a few cases of how these gentle giants are maintained by private owners.

Privately-owned Elephant at Samayapuram

Privately-owned elephant at Samayapuram

Samayapuram

A private elephant was seen in front of Samayapuram Temple, with the mahout using it for begging in the hot sun. While the elephant was standing on the burning cement road, the mahout sat on a stool under the elephant’s belly enjoying the shade given by the huge animal. Just for pretense, he had put some coconut leaves for the elephant to eat. The ship-owners nearby said that the elephant is kept standing for more than 8 hours daily only to beg.

As it was kept chained all through the day, severe injuries were seen on the legs and raw wounds seen all over the body. As per Rule 15 of the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules2011, HR & CE is vested with the responsibility to monitor privately owned elephants also. But the department has not bothered despite the fact that the elephant has been used for begging right under its nose.

Privately-owned Elephant Faseela at Srirangam

Privately-owned Elephant Faseela at Srirangam

Srirangam 

An elephant named ‘Faseela’, with a mahout on top, was walked from Srirangam to Mayilam Murugan Temple, a distance of 180 kms. The mahout fed the elephant with whatever he could get along the route. The animal’s pain and suffering while walking on the tar road with its soft foot pads on a hot summer day can be imagined.

Ammu of Pazhani

Elephant Ammu of Pazhani

Pazhani 

One Sivakumar owned a female elephant called ‘Ammu’ in Pazhani. Sivakumar is an auto driver by profession. On 14 April 2016, he wrote a letter to the Conservator of Forests, Dindigal Circle, requesting consent for treatment and medical aid for Ammu:

“… I have been in possession of an elephant by name ‘Ammu’ for the past 27 years. The elephant is 46 years old and its Ownership Certificate No is WL/DGL/4/2006. My elephant has been suffering with acute stomach issues over the past many months. It also has many abscesses and wounds. But unfortunately she couldn’t get up one day and the doctor had mentioned bloating in stomach and that she needs to be removed to a medical care facility, but only after she stabilizes and gets up. Kindly grant permission to provide necessary veterinary treatment, since I am unable to look after and provide for its upkeep and maintenance. … I give full consent to the forest department and KSPCA (Kodaikanal Society for Protection and Care for Animals) for her further treatment in Pazhani itself until she stabilizes to be moved to a rehabilitation centre in future….”  

Ammu was kept in dark and gloomy room that is damp, unhygienic, congested, noisy and suffocating. The room, measuring 20 x 20 feet, and located at the end of extremely narrow lanes with dense and tight houses on each side, makes it mandatory for the elephant to squeeze through these narrow channels every time she is taken out and brought in. The flooring is unnatural cement and the room has stone walls and thatched roofs.

Sivakumar, who was using Ammu for begging, had not fed her properly. Although he stated that he was feeding almost 300 kgs of green grass, rice and other supplements, the inspection team could find only little quantity of damp grass. Sivakumar had also not maintained the Food Register which he is supposed to maintain.

Poor maintenance and poor feeding led to severe deterioration in Ammu’s health. She had wounds on her legs due to chaining; and injury marks on her body as she had to rub against the walls while going in and out of her shelter through narrow lanes. Although Sivakumar claimed he had taken Ammu for regular walk and exercises, he had not maintained such records. Sivakumar had maintained a medical book with periodical inspection of veterinary doctors, but the book seemed to contain records/reports which lack authenticity.

Even after Sivakumar was instructed on how to take care of Ammu during the inspection conducted on 23 February 2016, he failed to take care of her and her health started deteriorating further. She was moved to a coconut grove for better living.

Meanwhile, Dr Sakthivel Pandi, assistant director, Animal Husbandry Department, visited Ammu on 10 January, 5 February and 1 March and certified on all the three days that “Ammu is good, normal in health and free from any diseases”. But Ammu fell down on 20 March and Sivakumar didn’t bother to bring the doctor immediately. Dr Pandi visited on 22 March and observed, “Physiological Oedema of udder in Brisket region; F/H normal; Animal unable to lie down for past three days”. He prescribed some medicines and left.

If Ammu was hale and healthy as certified by Dr Pandi until 1 March, how come she suddenly collapsed on 20 March? Did Dr Pandi really check the necessary parameters during his three earlier visits before certifying that Ammu is healthy without any diseases? Is this how senior officers of the Tamil Nadu government’s Animal Husbandry department work?

Later, expert veterinarian Dr Ramachandran, from Madurai, checked Ammu with the aid of KSPCA and gave her the required treatment, because of which she was able to stand up. But, Sivakumar again failed to carry out the instructions and Ammu fell again on 14 April. The same day Sivakumar gave the letter to the Conservator of Forests requesting for further treatment, admitting he was not in a position to take care of Ammu. Alas, Ammu died on 15 April.

How did an auto driver manage to own an elephant? What was the action taken by Chief Wildlife Warden who is responsible for this? What was the action taken by Hr & CE Department, which is supposed to monitor elephants owned by private owners?

See this story on Haran’s Facebook page.

Lakshmi of Pazhani

 Privately-owned Elephant Lakshmi at Palani (Pazhani)

Pazhani 

One Soundarrajan in Pazhani owns a 58-years old elephant named ‘Lakshmi’. He used her to beg near the temple and bus stand for long hours. She never had the required food; no proper medical checks; and in course of time lost weight and became weak. Her skin showed wrinkles; she has wounds all over her body; her legs are swollen and out of shape; nails are broken and the foot pads have big wounds and abscesses with pus coming out with bad smell. The skull bones on her forehead were prominently seen. Even in this condition, Soundarrajan used her for begging.

KSPCA and WRRC took steps to take her to the rehabilitation centre owned by WRRC in Malur, Karnataka with the permission of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. Unfortunately, Lakshmi was found unfit for travel. WRRC summoned expert veterinarian Dr. Ramachandran to check her condition. He confirmed she was not in a position to travel and suggested she be taken to a nearby place for immediate preliminary treatment, after which she could be shifted to Malur. Lakshmi was shifted to Animal Care Trust in Rajapalayam, where she is receiving the required treatment.

Camel at Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Government’s responsibility

Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) prescribes strict rules for procuring, keeping and maintaining wildlife animals, and for transporting them from one place to another, from one state to another. As per the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, all wildlife beings are considered as government properties. If at all a private person wants to own a wildlife being, he has to obtain ownership certificate and license from the Chief Wildlife Warden or similar authorized person. The license must be renewed periodically. Besides, other things pertaining to the concerned being like Tusk, Skin, Nails, Hair, etc., including Meat, come under the ambit of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.

As there are strict and specific rules prescribed in the Act, Chief Wildlife Warden and other officers must grant license only after proper enquiries and investigations. In the course of their enquiries, they should find out if the concerned applicant has the basic knowledge and is capable of taking care of the animal; whether he has the required infrastructure to keep and maintain the animal. They should also find out why the applicant wants to own wildlife.

The concerned licensing authorities must realize that they have certain moral responsibilities for the welfare of the animals. Yet, looking at the profile of the owners of Faseela, Ammu and Lakshmi, and the way they maintained their elephants, it is clear that the Chief Wildlife Warden and other authorities miserably failed in their duty and abdicated their responsibility.

The fact that auto drivers procured licenses to own and maintain an elephant while big temples with huge resources find it difficult to do so, shows how corrupt the system is. The Department of Forests, HR & CE Department, Department of Animal Husbandry—all seem equally callous and corrupt.

(To be continued…)

» B. R. Haran is an independent senior journalist in Chennai.

Elephant Ammu with KSPCA staff, police and the mahout

One Response

  1. Shocking and distressing ! One wonders whether cruelty to animals has become part of the Indian psyche.

    One also wonders whether in the old days of the maharajahs and princely states, the situation was different.

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