In Odisha, rapid urbanization, mining and industry, expansion of linear infrastructure and fragmented habitats have sent Elephants into a growing conflict with humans over the last several years.
A total of 282 Elephants died in Odisha from 2018 through August 31, 2021, the state’s forest minister Bikaram Keshari Arukha said. The highest number of Elephant deaths (93) took place in 2018-19, followed by 82 in 2019-20, 77 in 2020-21 and 30 till end of August this year.
As many as 43 of the Elephants were electrocuted, seven were killed by poachers, 13 were hit by trains, four in road accidents and 59 died in other accidents. The rest succumbed to infections — 18 died of anthrax, six of herpes and 77 of other diseases. As many as 34 Elephants died of natural causes and 21 due to unknown reasons.
The eastern state had 1,976 Elephants in 2017, according to the last census. This was an improvement from 1954 in 2015 and 1930 in 2012, the minister noted at the state assembly.
“Odisha’s forest and environment department has selected 14 traditional Elephant corridors in the state for smooth movement of the Elephants,” he added.
The Minister also informed that the state lost 17 Leopards in this period which included two Royal Bengal Tigers, killed in electrocution and disease separately in 2018-19. Five Leopards were killed in poaching. The Special Task Force of Odisha Police, State Forest department as well as the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau have seized at least 29 Leopard skins since April 2020. Nine Leopard skins were seized by Forest officials in Kalahandi alone in July this year.
The number of Leopards in the state, however, more than doubled to 760 in that period, according to the NTCA report released December 21, 2020.
‘Leopards occupy areas vacated by Tigers and this is one of the main reasons behind the increasing Leopard population in the state, according to LA Singh, former wildlife research officer of Similipal Tiger Reserve.
Leopards also breed more often than Tigers and can survive in almost any type of habitat and need less space, he added. Tigers, the biggest of the big cats, thrive in larger forest expanses, said the expert.
To curb poaching of wild animals, the State Government has formed anti-poaching and anti-smuggling squads in the sensitive areas.
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Once targeted for their ivory tusks, Asia’s already endangered elephants are facing a new threat to their survival: Poachers in Myanmar and elsewhere are selling their hides to be turned into purported cures for stomach ulcers and cancer as well as jewellery and prayer beads for sale in China. Elsewhere, the skins are being turned into luxury leather goods from golf bags and designer boots to wallets, belts and even motorcycle seats.
Trafficking in Asian elephant hides has grown over the past four years from small-scale sales of skins to a wholesale commercial trade. In Asia, this includes sales on open, online forums as well as by some Chinese pharmaceutical companies, according to the U.K.-based wildlife conservation group Elephant Family, which believes most of the Chinese products come from illegally traded Asian elephant hides. Legally licensed trade in hides from four African countries is strictly controlled and regulated.
Conservationists fear that elephant skin may even begin to replace ivory as a motive for poaching, and that any legal trade provides a loop-hole for illegal trade. For these reasons, they have urged countries to completely ban its importation.
Asian Elephants live across a vast range of 13 countries, from India to Indonesia, yet their global population of 30,000-50,000 is barely 10% of their African cousins. While all Elephants face the threats of habitat loss, conflict with people, and poaching for ivory, Asian Elephants are also threatened by illicit live trade for the entertainment industry and, most recently, by poaching for the illegal trade in their skins.
The first conservation organisation to investigate the Elephant skin trade chain, their research revealed that this trade continues to grow both in scope and in volume. Traders are diversifying and experimenting.
Initially, powdered Elephant skin was sold as a traditional medicine ingredient. Then a new trend emerged where dried Elephant skin was carved and polished into prayer beads and other Chinese collectibles, with traders extolling the qualities of the blood-red hue in the translucent subcutaneous layers.
There is now an increase in the online advertising of powdered Elephant skin for sale to, apparently exclusively, buyers in mainland China. Videos posted on marketing sites show images of backyards in Myanmar and Laos being used by traders to carve up chunks of Elephant skin, remove coarse hair with blow-torches and dry it in ovens before grinding it into a fine powder. It is then packaged for sale as Traditional Chinese Medicine for stomach ailments. Field investigations revealed that while some consumers are satisfied with these prepared products delivered to them by courier, more discerning buyers in China’s cities prefer to buy whole skin pieces complete with creases and hair to prove their authenticity, before grinding them into powder themselves.
The main source for Elephant skin is, at present, Myanmar, where officials have identified a poaching crisis that has developed rapidly since 2010. But traders have also mentioned other Asian Elephant range countries. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of known importers, online traders, physical salespeople and consumers are in China. The product labels are printed in Chinese, online traders communicate in Mandarin and prices are quoted in Chinese currency. In early 2018, the investigation found Elephant skin products on sale in Yunnan, Guangdong, and Fujian provinces of China.
Like many forms of illegal wildlife trade, traffickers are exploiting a traditional, usually medicinal use, to create new trends that drive demand, and allow them to profit from poaching. Of particular concern is the discovery that Chinese pharmaceutical companies are advertising the sale of medicine that contains Asian Elephant skin derivatives, and that China’s State Forestry Administration has apparently issued licenses for these products.
At a time when China has shown commitment to ending its domestic trade in Elephant ivory, it would be troubling and perverse to find that, at the same time, it is creating a new legal demand for Elephant skin products. Conservationists, law enforcement specialists and many governments agree that domestic wildlife markets facilitate the laundering of illicit commodities while simultaneously placing increased demand on law enforcement agencies as they attempt to address a growing and illegal wildlife trade with limited resources, inadequate criminal justice responses and institutional corruption.
The report outlines Elephant Family’s findings and provides evidence of a profoundly worrying trend in Elephant skin trade that severely threatens already fragile populations of Asian Elephants. Moreover, this new trend could easily spread to Africa as has been seen with other species. As one trader told Elephant Family investigators “it’s only skin – who cares if it comes from Asian Elephants or African Elephants”.
The report aims to provide greater insight into the illicit trade in Asian Elephant skin. We also raise critical questions that need answers, and make recommendations to guide urgent action by key stakeholders.
Key Findings Of The Report Found:
Since 2014, the trade in Asian Elephant skin has expanded from small-scale use to wholesale commercial trade as traffickers stimulate demand.
The first account of manufacturing Elephant skin beads was posted online in 2014. Elephant skin powder is now a dominant commodity sold as a medicine for stomach complaints.
Manufacture of Elephant skin products is taking place in Myanmar, Laos and China. The market in China is where skin products can reach several times the value at source. Elephant skin beads and powder are mainly traded through open online forums such as Baidu, and private personal messaging platforms such as WeChat. Traders use only Chinese language on forums and quote prices in Chinese currency.
The primary source of Asian Elephants used in the skin trade now appears to be Myanmar where poaching incidents have increased dramatically since 2010, with Elephant carcasses found with their skin removed entirely or in strips. Most traders also confirm that Elephant skin products use Asian Elephants, a species protected under Appendix I of CITES.
Elephant skin products have been found in physical markets in Mong La, Myanmar, and Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China and in January 2018 were also found in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China.
Documentation shows that China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) issued licenses for the manufacture and sale of pharmaceutical products containing Elephant skin. These commercially produced products, claiming to contain African and Asian Elephant skin, were advertised for sale by several Chinese companies.
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The use of elephants in the tourism industry has become incredibly popular. Vacations boasting everything from a chance to ride on an elephant, to seeing them paint, or even getting a massage from an elephant have popped up all across Asia. While these might appear to be fun activities for you and your family, the reality is that the experience is anything but for the elephants.
Although elephants are incredibly intelligent and docile by nature, there is very little about the behaviors exhibited by captive elephants in the tourism industry that is natural. To get these wild animals to interact with humans, they must undergo an extraordinarily cruel breaking process, called “Phajaan,” that renders them submissive to their human trainers.
Breaking Baby Elephants Baby elephants are taken from their mothers at a very young age, usually three to six years old, but often younger. After a young elephant is in the captivity of its handlers, the aim of the Phajaan program is to break its spirit. Babies will be kept in small crates similar to those found in the intensive pig farming industry. Their feet will be tied with ropes, their limbs will be stretched, they will be repeatedly beaten with sharp metal and other tools, they will be constantly yelled and screamed at, and they will be starved of food. Bull hooks (a tool used in most forms of elephant control) will be used to stab the head, slash the skin and tug the ears.
The next time you see an Asian elephant used in trekking, elephant rides, movies, in a circus or any other form of entertainment, take a look at the state of its ears. Captive elephants often have shredded or torn ears from their tissue being ripped and pulled away in the training process. They also often have scars on their foreheads from deep lacerations caused by beatings.
Ropes are used to tie and stretch the elephant’s limbs, these will eventually be replaced with tight, constricting chains. The Phajaan may last for weeks and they have no rest from physical torture and mental domination. Gradually, their spirits break and their handlers achieve control.
The “Bond” Between Trainer and Elephant Traditionally in Eastern Asia, a mahout will be sole charge of a single elephant. As a mahout ages, his elephant is passed down through his family line. An elephant’s mahout will not be involved in the physical abuse during Phajaan. In the final stage of the Phajaan, the elephant’s mahout will bring the animal its first meal with water, and will be the one to “release” the elephant and lead it away from the crate. After weeks of torture, of mental and emotional abuse, of loneliness, confusion and
separation, the elephant sees this human figure as its savior – the one it trusts. This is just another stage of mental and emotional manipulation, of course, but it is how a particular mahout gains such immense control over its animal.
This video illustrates the cruelty of this process. We will warn you, it is graphic.
What You Can Do Getting the chance to interact with a baby elephant might seem like an incredible experience, but given the immense cruelty and abuse that that elephant has to endure for these interactions, is it really worth it? Asian elephants are highly endangered animals and are often targeted by poachers who capture them from the wild and sell them into the tourism industry. By visiting attractions that feature captive elephants and paying to ride or interact with one, you become complicit in this injustice.
We can all help to end this cruelty by boycotting tourism attractions that feature captive elephants. If you are headed to Thailand and want to experience elephants in a humane way, check out elephant sanctuaries like Elephant Nature Park or Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary. These organizations are helping to spread the truth about the cruelty inherent in elephant tourism while providing a sanctuary for animals who have been rescued from such attractions.
But remember, these elephants would not need to be in sanctuaries if the elephant tourism industry didn’t exist so please share this knowledge with others so we can see the cruelty against elephants end, once and for all.
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An Elephant was found in Liwonde National Park, he was completely debilitated and had a wire snare trap digging into the flesh of his leg near his foot. The poor animal could not move, feed or even get water to alleviate his condition.
The Helpless Victim
It is said that hunters set snare traps to kill smaller wild animals and not Elephants. Unfortunately though, a helpless Elephant fell victim to it. This gained varied reactions in the social media where one Facebook user said, “Humans the only species to demonstrate such ‘inhumanity’, we should be ashamed.
This picture shows them inserting the needle, on which the IV lines are connected, into the Elephant’s ear on which arteries are accessible, and usually an endotracheal tube is inserted down the animal’s throat. The IV will allow the veterinarians to monitor blood-oxygen levels, while the tube ensures that the animal can continue breathing under anesthesia.
Injecting The Tranquilizer
Here we see Dr. Salb injecting the tranquilizer fluid into the iv line. They probably had to more or less guess the weight of this particular young Elephant in order to administer the correct dose. The others help to pull the uninjured leg up so that they are able to get to the injured one with the snare attached, that has dug very deeply into his flesh.
This adolescent must have really struggled and struggled to free himself, probably very confused and not sure what was holding him back. What an awful death he would have suffered. When the woozy pachyderm finally succumbs, not that he had any resistance left, they get to work on his wound.
Snare Trap Removed
Dr. Salb gets to work on removing the horrible wire snare. Derek MacPherson looks on resting his hand on the poor suffering Elephants trunk in a comforting gesture. Another helper looks on with some water with disinfectant, to clear the wound of debris etc., so that the snare can be seen properly to be able to remove it. The vet has to use really strong sharp side cutters and strength to unwind the strong wire that the poachers use.
Taking Off The Snare
And this is the offending bloody snare tightly wrapped around the young Elephant’s leg with a piece of flesh still embedded into it.
“It’s always devastating to see the dreadful damage these snares can do to such a big animal,” the Lilongwe Wildlife Center wrote on its Facebook page. Snares can cull animal populations at an alarming rate. Hunters/poachers set snare traps with aims to kill smaller wild animals than Elephants, which can decimate animal populations at an unsustainable rate, according to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). Just 1,000 of these snares can capture 18,250 animals in a year — even Elephants, whose population is already plummeting because of the ivory trade.
The Infected Wound
To make things even more sad, the young Elephant’s wound appears to be infected. Here you can see that the wound is being cleaned out the blood and puss from the deeply cut leg of the Elephant which appears to be almost cut to the bone. Needless to say, this poor Elephant must have been in a lot of pain. Luckily while they work, he is safely in dreamland and not feeling the excruciating pain for the moment.
In this picture you can see that the Elephant’s wound has been washed clean and is ready for some topical treatment. It is also noticeable that the animal has lost a lot of weight and looks very weak. And from the position of the person’s hand you can see the depth that the snare cut into the leg.
The whole procedure went extremely well Dr. Salb said “Although the wound was really deep, we’re all so pleased that we were able to remove the snare entirely and give him the required treatment.”
The Young Elephant Still Sleeping
At this point, the whole procedure has been completed with topical ointments applied and antibiotics administered. Looking at the photo, a game park ranger watches over the young Elephant. The African Park scouts and the Rhino Protection Team also helped in monitoring the condition of the animal.
Here veterinarian Amanda Salb seems to be double checking on the Elephant. Probably taking some measurements and statistics for their records. Wildlife vet, Amanda Salb, is the heroine along with her team, in this important role of saving wildlife discovered alive in national parks.
Many similar incidents occur on a regular basis in this huge park and it is also because of its vastness that the difficulty of monitoring arises. Nevertheless, the world isn’t lacking with people who show immense compassion to animals.
A radio collar is fitted to the injured Elephant. The Elephant gets a radio collar so he can be found again for follow-up treatment. The Elephant will continue to be monitored by African Parks scouts and the Rhino Protection Team, and if he needs any further treatment, Wildlife vet, Amanda Salb and her team will be on call.
Lilongwe Wildlife Trust reported that despite his gory injury, the pain seemed to have subsided quickly because, two days after the rescue, the Elephant was spotted at the watering hole with his herd. “He was bathing normally and seemed bright,” Salb said.
This Elephant is one of the lucky few that got found in time and treated, and that the treatment was adequate and the little fellow was strong. As Elephants have long memories I am sure he will not forget his horrific ordeal in a hurry. Let us hope the same thing does not occur again. People voiced their reactions online to this particular Elephant’s brush with a snare trap. “Humans the only species to demonstrate such ‘inhumanity’, we should be ashamed.”
Operation Safe Haven
Nearly 50% of animals living in the park had been slaughtered before ‘Operation Safe Haven’ moved in in November 2014. They detected and removed 10,000 deadly poachers’ traps that covered the park, and arrested over 70 criminal poachers and 6 wildlife traffickers, securing hefty fines or prison sentences against the majority.
At the end of Operation Safe Haven the security of the national park was handed over to a team of long-term managers, African Parks. The future of the Elephants and Rhinos here is now assured and the breakthrough formula should be applied to other national parks. At least our young Elephant is a bit safer in his habitat now.
This photo alone tells just how rampant poaching is. The snares all look terrifying considering that they are used as instrument to trap and slowly kill their poor victims.
The Hunt For Ivory
Here for interest sake is a haul of poached ivory confiscated from people, that set traps, shoot and kill Elephants for their tusks. These were bound for Asia. We are thankful that there are still people around that care for the endangered species of animals in Africa, especially Elephant and Rhino.
Sunset Over Liwonde Game Reserve
Here is a beautiful picture of a sunset over the watering hole at the Liwonde Game Reserve in Malawi, where the young Elephant was found. Hopefully he is completely recovered and enjoying the peaceful surroundings.
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Elephant rides are an attraction regularly offered to tourists in several Asian countries including Thailand. But to get there, the animals undergo a very particular training that is actually akin to real torture.
Between 35 and 40,000, is the number of wild Elephants that remain in Asia, according to estimates. A figure to which should be added the more than 15,000 domesticated Elephants. If you go to Asia one day, you will certainly meet these majestic pachyderms with big ears. You may even be asked to ride on their backs for a ride.
This attraction attracts millions of tourists every year in Asia, especially in Thailand. Nevertheless, it hides a reality that few tourists are aware of: to get there, the animals suffer a real torture. If the words can seem strong, they are not, as all those who have seen with their eyes what is really happening. Indeed, to be trained, Elephants undergo a ritual called “phajaan”.
The principle is simple: “break the spirit” of the Elephant. As two globetrotters, Seth and Lise, explain, “the origin of phajaan comes from the ancestral belief that one can separate the mind of an Elephant from its body so that it loses its reflexes and instinct natural wilderness and be completely under the control of man “. Concretely, it is to submit the Elephant until he agrees to do everything asked of him.
Beaten, hungry and sleep-deprived
From a practical point of view, it is only by using violence that the trainers achieve it. Phajaan lasts between 4 and 6 days and is carried out on young Elephants. The animals are separated from their mothers and locked in narrow cages where they are chained. Without being able to struggle or even move a limb, they are then repeatedly hit in strategic places, the most sensitive.
In addition to being beaten, Elephants are kept awake, deprived of food and water under the eyes of trainers (“mahout”) who recite prayers that can be translated as “Elephant, if you stop fighting, we do not you’ll hurt more, “says a documentary. The torture does not stop until after several days, when the trainers believe that the spirit of the Elephant is broken, that his behaviour has changed.
Out of his cage, the animal appears submissive, impressed by the fear of the man who subjected him to this torture. Then begins a real training that will consist in teaching the Elephant all the necessary commands or gestures intended to amuse the tourists. Once the specimen is formed, it can be used as an attraction for most of its life.
50% of Elephants die during the ritual
It is estimated that half of the Elephants would not survive phajaan. Others would become aggressive: about 100 mahouts are killed each year by their animals. Still others would go insane or have trouble with their experience, rendering them unusable for attractions. Most would then be killed.
The surviving Elephants are used to wander among the tourists, to beg or for work. In order for them to remain submissive, they are given a few booster shots by hitting them or pressing the sensitive spots again. In tourism, an Elephant can spend the day carrying people without a minute to rest, eat or drink. The rest of the time, most animals are tied up so that they are not dangerous.
A life that would often lead to the appearance of disorders including neurological. “If you ever have a chance to spot domestic Elephants, watch them,” Seth and Lise explain. “Chance or not, all the Elephants we’ve seen had signs of recent abuse, scars, obvious signs of poor health, some are more damaged than others, and it’s extremely rare to see one of these well-treated animals. “.
“It is largely because of tourists that this business works, so it is up to tourists to make the right decisions. The future and especially the well-being of thousands of Elephants is at stake,” they conclude in their blog.
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They are the country’s icon – but behind the dazzle of religious festivals, these giants of the wild are painfully abused in Kerala.
When Audrey Gaffney first read about Raju, an Elephant kept in chains with spikes embedded in his ankles, she couldn’t stop the tears pouring down her face. “In fact, I cried again and again: I found over the next few days I just couldn’t get this story out of my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about Raju,” she recalls.
“I couldn’t believe the cruelty of my race.”
The young Elephant had been snatched from his family, she
explains – his mother either would have been killed or spent weeks searching
and crying for him – and he was beaten into submission. Raju then spent the
next 50 years forced by his handler to beg in the street, starved, frightened
and suffering infected wounds to his flesh. By the time of his rescue, he had
resorted to eating plastic and paper.
Going on to discover that Raju was just one of thousands of
Elephants treated this way in India, Ms Gaffney, a single mother from
Liverpool, was spurred into becoming an activist for the first time. In the
four years since, she says, her life has changed beyond recognition as she
dropped her wariness of social media and teamed up with other volunteers
working to raise awareness of the horrors to which the temple Elephants of
India are subjected.
Taken from their families in the wild, shackled, beaten,
whipped and exploited like slaves, these Elephants – ironically India’s icons –
are painted and dressed in colourful decorations, to be paraded in regular
festivals and processions organised by religious temples.
They are the world’s forgotten Elephant victims of mankind. While the world has focused on the threat of extinction to Africa’s Elephants caused by the ivory poaching crisis and the cruelty of tourist Elephant rides in Thailand and Cambodia, the plight of their captive counterparts in India has remained largely hidden from public gaze.
Photographs and videos posted online have shown how, away from the glitz of the festivals, these sensitive, intelligent and naturally sociable creatures are tied to the spot by ropes or chains that eat into their skin and inflict agonising injuries to their legs; they are hit with metal rods or bull-hooks – sharp tools – and “trained” with punishments to hold their heads high.
When the six-month festival season begins in December, they are forced to walk for miles in searing heat on hot, stinging tar roads and ridden into processions noisy with crowds and fireworks – terrifying for a creature whose home is the forest. While still shackled in chains they are made to run races or carry people and are subjected to “painful and unnatural” “head-lifting” competitions.
Some Elephants are carted from one festival to another – in
some cases hundreds of miles – and despite suffering sometimes infected wounds
from the chains, are ridden in searing temperatures by people who apparently
see no harm in what they do.
The southern coastal state of Kerala has the highest number of festival Elephants, about 500 out of 3,500-4,000 across the country. Action for Elephants UK (AfE) brands Kerala “ground zero for elephant torture” and has called their illegal treatment “the worst case of animal cruelty in the world”. The plight of the 150 captive elephants in neighbouring Tamil Nadu is feared to be just as BAD.
Footage posted by local group Kerala Suffering Elephants (KSE) reveals how an Elephant named Gurvayur Nandan was paraded at a festival until dawn, before being transported for eight hours standing on the back of a truck in the scorching sun for eight hours without rest to a separate event that ran until midnight.
Malnourished and deprived of medical care, captive individuals of the endangered species rarely survive this “unrelenting neglect and torture” for a natural lifespan. The mortality rate in Kerala is shocking: 58 have died in 27 months, and already in 2018, 12 have succumbed, according to KSE. In seven years, the death toll is 350. “There could be no more damning proof of the hellish conditions and treatment meted out to these Elephants,” says Maria Mossman, founder of AfE.
For all the abuse, injuries and mental torment, it’s not the pain or infections that usually kills them early, it’s “intestinal impactions”: a blocked colon caused by being fed the wrong diet and insufficient quantities of water. The condition means they die “a miserable and painful” early death.
Campaigners have had enough. Gathering outside the Indian
High Commission in London, they staged a protest to draw the attention of the
New Delhi government and the world at large to the animals’ plight. Wearing
large Elephant masks and waving placards, they came from a variety of
backgrounds; some had travelled hundreds of miles to be there.
What unites these women – and yes, the campaigners are
nearly all women – is a shared abhorrence of the “abuse and torture”. They
adamantly deny attempting to interfere with religious culture.
“Temple Elephants are not part of any tradition,” explains
Their use in temples and festivals is not part of Indian
culture, nor do Hindu scriptures anywhere say that Elephants should be used in
temple rituals. On the contrary, the barbaric treatment of these elephants goes
completely against the core beliefs of Hinduism”
In fact, the cruelty behind Kerala’s rituals is thought to
have begun about a century ago as India’s nouveaux riches started to buy
Elephants to flaunt their wealth. Denise Dresner, a co-organiser of AfE,
recalls the heart-wrenching moment that opened her eyes to the scale of the
problem: “In 2013 I saw a video by Peta of Sunder the temple Elephant being
beaten. This was something I’d never witnessed before.
“An Elephant was on its side on the ground, struggling to
get up. His feet were shackled and he was being beaten violently by several
men, over and over again. He kept struggling, unable to get away from the blows
raining down on him. I learned later he had been kept in a dark shed and beaten
incessantly for seven years.
“That moment of seeing him being beaten and tortured was
seared into my brain and heart. It’s an image that will never leave me, one
that shows the extremes of human violence and brutality towards other living
beings. The unspeakable cruelty perpetrated on these majestic, sentient and
highly intelligent creatures must end.”
For Maria Harper, another protester, it’s the duration of
the suffering that is worst. “What upset me most was when I realised the length
of time the temple and festival Elephants suffer,” she says.
“They can endure cruelty and abuse for more than 50 years –
if they are unfortunate enough to survive that long. It’s a life sentence”
Seeing the photos and hearing the accounts is harrowing. But
Ms Mossman says it’s vital if their welfare is to improve. “The world needs to
know how handlers use banned weapons and restrain them with heavy shackles,
often tightened so severely that they cut through the flesh, causing raw
bleeding wounds that are seldom treated. “They are often forced to stand in the
same position 24/7, in their own urine and excrement, suffering from foot rot.
They are beaten and tortured time and again.”
Some mahouts think nothing of whipping an Elephant to make
it bend to his will, such as climbing into a truck. But the abuse doesn’t end
Most of Kerala’s captive Elephants are bulls. When they
enter their annual musth – mating season – their testosterone levels and energy
surge, so the mahouts tighten their shackles further until the creatures are
unable to move. In addition, food and water are restricted to weaken them.
But then comes the cruellest torture yet. Several men, often
drunken, beat the chained Elephant for up to 72 hours relentlessly. The
practice is based on a superstitious belief that the Elephants may have
forgotten their commands during their musth, and is designed to break the
Elephant’s spirit, “reminding him that his masters are in control”.
All bull Elephants in Kerala undergo this horror every year.
These practices are banned by the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals Act 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, but campaigners point
out that the laws are routinely ignored.
Elephants are paraded with no ownership papers or parade certificates, or with fake fitness certificates, breaking the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which says they cannot be exploited for profit, AfE says. Recent laws banning the use of disabled, sick or pregnant elephants in festivals are also ignored.
“The plight of these Elephants is arguably the worst case of
animal abuse in the world. The suffering that temple Elephants endure is
“India has very good laws, but they are ignored daily and
the abusers go unpunished,” says Ms Mossman. “Not only are Elephants
intelligent and sentient beings, they are an endangered species. It is the duty
not only of India to enforce the laws to protect them, but of the world to hear
their cries of suffering and respond to end the brutality against them.”
She and KSE agree that making profits and keeping the status
quo are at the root of the problem. “These sentient animals are seen only as
commodities, earning huge sums of money for their owners and the temples,” says
Ms Mossman. “Exploited under the veneer of culture and religion, they are big
business. Everyone, from the chief minister downwards, has a stake.”
The 3,000 temples that rent out Elephants to festival
organisers are run by four devaswom (socio-religious trusts), appointed by the
state government, and each temple earns many millions of rupees from festivals.
Any Elephant that makes it beyond 60 is purposely neglected
and abused – treated as a disposable item – so the owners can make hefty
insurance claims, according to AfE.
Sangita Iyer, who was born and raised in Kerala and made an
award-winning 2016 film, Gods in Shackles, revealing what goes on behind the
scenes at the festivals, is convinced greed is to blame.
“Elephants are allowed to die so the owners can receive the pay-outs.
There’s a whole insurance industry surrounding this, in which the owners and
brokers make the most profit.”
A dead tusker that suffered intestinal blockages is covered
with a cloth. Most captive elephants die young after years of pain (Action for
According to India’s Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, which in 2014 petitioned the Supreme Court of India to order better conditions for the animals, another factor is young men showing off. “Today’s mahouts are in it for the glamour and the thrill. Unlike the mahouts of the old, who learnt the ways of handling the Elephants over time, these guys know only oppression and violence,” one rescuer says.
Nor does Ms Iyer particularly blame festival-goers. “Most
people are unaware of the crushing burden these Elephants carry, in the literal
sense, on their backs, and in their hearts and souls. Most people don’t realise
the brutality that these sentient beings undergo to entertain them. They are so
hypnotised by the majestic, ornate Elephants and lost in their own selfish
world that they don’t even look at the raw bleeding ankles.”
However bad the suffering of the individuals, the abuse has
wider repercussions. KSE warns it could even lead to the extinction of Indian
“As each of these Elephants die from overwork, intestinal
impactions etc, the surviving ones are going to be overworked even more. It’s a
vicious cycle and will probably end only when there are no Elephants left”
Taking young Elephants from the wild has a serious impact on
wild Elephant populations in India and elsewhere, activists fear. People’s
lives, too, are being put at risk. Some elephants, driven frantic by their
suffering, break free and run amok. Behind media reports of people being killed
by a rampaging Elephant there almost always lies a story of a brutalised
There have also been 300 incidents of Elephants running amok
in the first three months of this year. Earlier this month there were
unconfirmed reports of Elephants running amok at festivals in Ernakulam and
Kollam districts. Unofficial counts put it at 20 incidents in one week.
Action for Elephants is warning prime minister Narendra Modi
these rituals are not just harming the country’s most iconic wildlife, but also
India’s multi-million-pound tourism industry and reputation. “We hope tourists
and visitors to India will make ethical choices and will shun all forms of
Elephant tourism that use elephants in any unnatural way, whether in festivals
or for trekking or rides or any other purpose,” a statement by the group says.
“In this day and age, when we have gained so much knowledge about the intelligence, emotional capacity, and social bonds of these majestic creatures, and when we know how endangered they are, we believe that all countries have a duty to protect them, treat them humanely, and give them sanctuary.”
India is positioned to take a global lead in ethical
wildlife tourism, the letter says.
As long as the current system of cruelty is allowed to
continue, the more it will negatively impact India’s tourism and tarnish
India’s reputation and image in the world
Signatories include primatologist Jane Goodall, TV star
Michael Palin, author Jilly Cooper, TV presenter Anneka Svenska and radio
presenter Nicky Campbell, as well as MP Zac Goldsmith.
Filmmaker Ms Iyer believes educating the public is the only
way to achieve change. “Ignorance and arrogance make for a bad potion, and
unless and until we are able to create attitude shifts in the public eye,
there’s little hope for these sentient beings.
“There is no point in fighting the owners or brokers.
Enlightening the people is the only way to stop the audience from participating
in festivals that use live Elephants and reduce demand for such cultural
festivals. When the demand dies down, the Elephants will be ultimately phased
The Indian High Commission in London did not respond to a
request by The Independent to comment and refused to send anybody to open the
door when visited in person.
There are some glimmers of hope, however. Occasionally, news
of progress made by welfare workers on the ground emerges, and an elephant
rescue can become a stand-out memory for followers. The film that startled Ms
Gaffney was called Raju the Elephant Cried on the Day he was Released from
Chains. His rescue made headlines.
Ms Dresner says she followed each step in a protracted legal case to free Sunder with her heart in her throat. “Finally, when he was freed, the joy was overwhelming. Like so many others, I then followed his progress in his new home at Bannerghatta Biological Park, crying (happily) with every bit of good news: his healing leg, his first swim in the pond, his making new friends, his putting weight on his skeletal frame.”
Fellow demonstrator Joanne Smith agrees. “The terrible
delays with the court case were so hard to take but the day Sunder was given
his freedom was thrilling,” she recalls. “It proved to me that we can make a
difference with hard work and determination.”
In the past two years, three temples have done away with
renting Elephants for festivals. One used mechanical stand-in; another used an
8ft dummy made of plaster of Paris and bamboo. Organisers say they may even
offer the model to neighbouring temples for their own festivals, allowing the
idea to catch on.
The London protest and letter also have the support of
Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley, whose message was: “One of the most
influential Indians of all time, Mahatma Gandhi, said: ‘The greatness of a
nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’
“India! Listen to his words and implement them. The world
supports your laws against cruelties to temple Elephants, but only you can
ensure that they are enforced.”
And that, say campaigners, really would be worth a
man-animal conflict story was reported in West Bengal when a train engine hit
an Elephant trying to cross the tracks, critically injuring the animal.
incident happened in the Jalpaiguri district of the state.
Banarhat-Nagrakata train route passes through a major Elephant corridor often
leading to such tragic accidents involving Elephants.
The heart-wrenching video that surfaced on various social media platforms showed the critically injured Elephant trying hard to drag itself out of the railway track, as people watched in helplessness, after being hit by the engine of the intercity express.
shows the impact of the injury on the poor animal while people watch
helplessly. In 2004, the Dooars line was converted from metre gauge to broad
gauge; a move that saw a sharp increase in Elephant deaths.
all the precautionary measures and efforts, such as speed limits and buzzers,
trains on the Dooars route have continued to kill Elephants.
period between 2013 to June 2019, a total of 67 Elephants were killed in
Hooda said in a twitter post “The agony of the Elephant is quite evident in the
video, the impact can be gauged by the damage to the engine.
urge the ministry to drastically reduce speed of trains through this area,
humans can easily manage slight delay to keep wildlife safe”
sake of the Elephants, let’s hope they listen and reduce the speed of trains
through the corridor.
is being filed asking Indian Railway to review the permitted speed of 50kmph in
the day time in dense forest areas. The maximum speed before the increase was 25kmpg
and had shown a sharp decrease in the accidents and death of Elephants.