Some of the dogs that Victoria has saved (Picture: Victoria Bryceson)
When lockdown struck, Victoria Bryceson was in the process of pulling together funds to build an animal centre for disabled dogs and cats. The founder of the animal welfare charity, Miracle’s Mission, had planned a series of vegan festivals in the UK, with the aim to use the profits to launch her latest project. Unfortunately, as the pandemic has put a halt to all events, the charity is quickly running out of money – and all plans for the centre have been put on hold. This means that canines across the country are currently at risk of dying from disease, abandonment or due to vets being forced to put them down.
‘Ninety per cent of disabled dogs that are seen by vets are euthanised unnecessarily so there must be literally thousands of dogs killed like this in the UK,’ Victoria said. To save their lives, the charity founder is now turning to the public with a campaign to raise £20,000 – the equivalent of the centre’s property deposit.
Miracle’s Mission already has a waiting list of dogs in urgent need of help, such as those with missing limbs or who are paralysed. Once open, the centre will provide care for the vulnerable dogs and cats, offering veterinary assessments, MRIs, surgeries, the fitting of prosthetics and doggy wheels. Each pup will also be given a personalised rehabilitation plan with physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, as well as daily massages and TENS machine stimulation. Additionally, they will be able to play with each other in a sensory garden and given educational toys for mental and physical stimulation. Victoria said: ‘At the moment amputation of one leg is common practice with UK vets, as dogs can live very well and still be very active with three legs, especially if it is a back leg, as most of the weight is on the front legs. ‘However, when it comes to a double amputation, leaving the dog with two legs, the general vets that I have seen in the UK have said it’s definitely not possible to do this as the dogs won’t be left with a good quality of life.
‘The specialist hospitals seem more open to it as they have more experience in the area, but even they have problems where most of their dogs in these conditions are euthanised, not because they need to be but because in their words it is the owners of the dogs who can’t cope with the thought of a two legged-dog. ‘So there is a huge need for education in this area, amongst the public, dog owners and vets. ‘The animals coming into our care will initially all be stray dogs with nowhere else to go and no one else to help them. ‘They will either have been born with some sort of condition, such as a bent leg that they can’t walk on or they will have been in an accident – for example hit by a car or they will have been abused.’ Once the dogs (and cats) have recovered, Miracle’s Mission will then find them a forever home – but to be able to do this, people’s attitudes towards disabled animals need to change, explained Victoria.
She said: ‘We will offer a full rehabilitation programme right through from assessment to surgery to rehabilitation, recovery and re-homing. ‘This is again why education is so important, so that people become open to adopting disabled dogs. ‘If we don’t re-home the dogs, the centre will be full on day one and then we won’t be able to help any more, so it is really desperately needed that the dogs be re-homed.’ So far, the campaign has raised £5,355. Once she reaches her goal, Victoria can build the centre in Yorkshire, which she hopes to open in 2020.
Here is the amazing transformation of some of the dogs that Victoria has already saved.
If you would like to donate to this wonderful cause, you can do so on the Miracle’s Mission GoFundMe page.
Alternatively, if you want to host a fundraising event of your own, email Victoria for more information.
As thousands of disabled animals are put to sleep across the UK, animal welfare charity Miracle’s Mission is looking for help to build the UK’s first centre for disabled animals – where they can be rehabilitated before finding their forever homes.
Victoria Bryceson, founder of Miracle’s Mission, says that countless disabled dogs are euthanased unnecessarily, despite the fact they could have a good quality of life with the right physical therapy and prosthetics.
She says, “At the moment amputation of one leg is common practice with UK vets, as dogs can live very well and still be very active with three legs, especially if it is a back leg, as most of the weight is on the front legs.
“However, when it comes to a double amputation leaving the dog with two legs, the general vets that I have seen in the UK have said it’s definitely not possible to do this as the dogs won’t be left with a good quality of life.”
As thousands of disabled animals are put to sleep across the UK, animal welfare charity Miracle’s Mission is looking for help to build the UK’s first centre for disabled animals – where they can be rehabilitated before finding their forever homes.
Many people may not be aware that dogs who have wheels and prosthetics can live as good a life as a fully able bodied dogs – much like Ella, who was found wandering the streets of Egypt, paralysed from the back down after being thrown off the top of a building.
Miracles’ Mission brought her to the UK, giving her a second chance. A wheelchair for dogs was made so she could get around, and soon Ella was running around with other dogs, living life to the fullest. Victoria is looking to let owners know that their disabled dogs could live happily, too, if only given a chance.
She adds, “The specialist hospitals seem more open to it as they have more experience in the area, but even they have problems where most of their dogs in these conditions are euthanased – not because they need to be but because, in their words, it is the owners of the dogs who can’t cope with the thought of a two legged dog. So there is a huge need for education in this area, amongst the public, dog owners and vets.
“General practice vets that have seen my journey with double amputee dogs have said that they have had a huge education on disabled animals and they can now see the possibilities and potential of a disabled dog. They are now much more open to using wheels and prosthetics. Dogs using wheels and prosthetics can live as good a life as a fully able-bodied dog and this is what I want to show people.
“I was stopped so many times when I was with a double amputee dog, to ask about her wheels as people hadn’t seen them before. They told me stories about their dogs back legs deteriorating and they thought the only option was euthanasia, but now they would look into wheels.”
The new centre will provide dedicated care for the most vulnerable dogs and cats. Animals under its care will receive thorough veterinary assessments, MRIs, surgeries, the fitting of prosthetics, and doggy wheels. Their personalised rehabilitation plan will include physiotherapy and hydrotherapy as well as daily massage and TENS machine stimulation.
Victoria says, “The animals coming into our care will initially all be stray dogs with nowhere else to go and no one else to help them. They will either have been born with some sort of condition, such as a bent leg that they can’t walk on or they will have been in an accident – for example hit by a car or they will have been abused.”
Once the patients have been emotionally and physically rehabilitated as much as possible, Miracle’s Mission get to work to find them all forever homes.
Victoria explains, “We will offer a full rehabilitation programme right through from assessment to surgery to rehabilitation, recovery and re-homing. This is again why education is so important, so that people become open to adopting disabled dogs.
“If we don’t re-home the dogs the centre will be full on day one and then we won’t be able to help anymore, so it is really desperately needed that the dogs be re-homed.”
There already is a waiting list of disabled dogs, but Victoria cannot accept them until she is able to finance the centre. She is currently crowd funding to raise £20,000 to secure a deposit for the centre, which if secured will be built in Yorkshire in 2020.
Sheena was looking for a special needs dog to adopt and found Daisy in the summer of 2011. Daisy was born with a congenital deformity in her front legs and uses a wheelchair to assist her walk. After learning that disabled dogs have a difficult time finding a forever home and are usually the first ones to be listed to euthanize at the shelter, Sheena was heartbroken.
In Sheena’s eyes, Daisy is a strong girl and she doesn’t pity her disability and feel the same way about all disabled dogs. She decided to use social media platforms to share Daisy’s story and raise positive awareness for all disabled dogs.
With Daisy’s sweet nature, spunky attitude, and underbite smile, she has gained many fans from all around the world and I am beyond grateful. I hope that Daisy’s story and photos will continue to spread, and more people will open their hearts to dogs with special needs.
You can help dogs just like Daisy and other disabled animals by supporting Miracle’s Mission who are opening a UK centre to help rescue, care for, and rehabilitate sick, injured and disabled animals worldwide. For more details about the work of Miracle’s Mission and how to help them go to Help Build The Disabled Animal Centre.
“Animals using wheelchairs and prosthetics can live as good a life as fully able-bodied animals and that is what we want to show people” ~ Victoria Bryson, Miracle’s Mission founder.
Please SHARE so that others can enjoy this happy-ending story and perhaps encourage others to adopt disabled animals. Thank You.
Do you want to join me in making a difference? I’m raising money to help the Miracle’s Mission project to build the first centre in the UK for disabled animals from around the world and any donation will help make an impact. Thanks in advance for your contribution to this cause that means so much to me.
Miracle’s Mission are a non profit animal welfare organisation that works with sick, injured and difficult animals. Their mission is to provide a place of safety for animals in danger, to educate on the need for neutering both pets and strays and to neuter stray dogs and cats to prevent the birth of more dogs and cats onto the streets.
Miracle’s Mission is dedicated to opening the first animal hospital in the UK to help disabled animals.
Miracle’s Mission was founded by Victoria Bryceson in 2015, after a trip to Borneo made her aware of the severity of the street dog population. Working with animal shelters over there, it became apparent that whilst these shelters were caring for the animals, the root cause was yet to be addressed. Allowing un-neutered cats and dogs to roam the streets meant that puppies and kittens were being born onto the streets at an alarming rate, with a grim life ahead of them. Therefore Miracle’s Mission came into existence with the main aim to neuter stray animals on the streets of Borneo and decrease the population of dogs and cats suffering.
Miracle’s Journey Miracle was rescued from the streets of Borneo at 1 week old before her tiny eyes were even open. She was found with her siblings in a very remote area, where they were likely abandoned and were very unwell. The puppies were full of maggots, with ringworm and blood parasites. Unfortunately, Miracle’s siblings did not make it.
Miracle was cared for by Victoria and she had a very long road of recovery ahead of her. She had several injuries and was very weak but she made a miraculous recovery and is now strong, happy and healthy living with her adopted sisters Star and Tess, who were also rescued from Borneo. Her aim is to aid in saving many more animals in need around the world.
The Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has been overwhelmed by the kindness, good wishes and support from the Australian and international community for the wildlife icon, the Koala.
At least 25,000 Koalas are believed to have died in a horrific wildfire in South Australia that may have devastating consequences for the survival of the species.
The fire on Kangaroo Island, which was considered a Koala safe-haven because its population had escaped a devastating chlamydia epidemic, was described as “virtually unstoppable” on Saturday by firefighters.
Koala rescuer Margaret Hearle stated that another important Koala population, nicknamed “the gene pool” because of its good health, had been “wiped out” in Crestwood, New South Wales.
Due to the recent tragic bushfires, the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has received a lot of concerned phone calls and messages regarding the impacted wildlife from these fires.
Over the past few days they have started to see a large number of injured Koalas, along with other native species heavily impacted by this event. They have been treating these victims as best they can to supply pain relief, antibiotics, treatment to wounds and basic husbandry requirements. They spent most of January 3rd building extra holding enclosures as well as defending the park from the immediate threat of the fire and will continue to prepare more infrastructure to house the extra wildlife they expect to see over the coming weeks.
They need much-needed funds to help with veterinary costs, Koala milk and supplements, extra holding/rehabilitation enclosures, as well as setting up a building to hold supplies to treat these animals.
Donations go directly towards the Koalas and other wildlife that they have coming in from the fires for their care, triage and ongoing treatments, housing, essential equipment, feed and more.
They are working around the clock with a highly experienced, qualified and dedicated team of volunteers including qualified vets, vet nurses and wildlife carers to rescue, rehabilitate and care for all of the animals coming in from the bushfires.
On admittance to the unit, all efforts are made to rehydrate, treat and assess the wildlife by their vet care team. Many are being treated for severe burns with most burns being to their hands, feet and rumps.
They are providing the best care possible for our injured wildlife and due to the significant habitat loss they will be building exhibits to hold the treated Koalas until arrangements can be made to release them back into the wild where possible.
Kangaroo Island is well known for its thriving Koala population however over 150,000 hectares has been lost due to recent events, this will effect our Koala population dramatically. We ALL need to pull together to save this Australian icon. Once conditions improve and they are granted access to fire ground, a qualified team will be going out to rescue wildlife caught in the fires and relocate those left without a food source or home.
PLEASE HELP RAISE MUCH-NEEDED FUNDS FOR THE KANGAROO ISLAND WILDLIFE PARK
To help raise funds for this vital project we are donating ALL proceeds from the sale of Badges, Brooches, Car Stickers, Tote Bags, Jewellery and Conservation Packs to help the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park treat animals affected by the #AustralianFires.
This desperate koala can be seen hastily drinking water in a bid to cool down amid the soaring heat in Australia. The marsupial approached a group of cyclists who were riding towards Adelaide, where temperatures are nearing 40C. Anna Heusler said the group saw the stricken animal in the middle of the road when they went around a bend in the state of South Australia. She told 7 News: ‘Naturally we stopped because we were going to help relocate him off the road. ‘I stopped on my bike and he walked right up to me, quite quickly for a koala, and as I was giving him a drink from all our water bottles, he actually climbed up onto my bike. ‘None of us have ever seen anything like it.’
Australia is currently experiencing a record-breaking heatwave, with average daily temperatures pushing into the high 40s. The heat has exacerbated the bushfires and more than four million hectares have already been burnt – an area roughly one-third of the size of England. Nearly 1,000 homes have been destroyed and nine people have been killed.
The plight of the koala has come into particular focus as around 30% of their habitat has been destroyed. Thousands of the iconic marsupials are feared to have died in the fires, particularly in the hardest hit state of New South Wales. The state was home to around 28,000 koalas but their numbers are known to have been depleted since the crisis broke out around two months ago. They have perished either in the bushfires or from starvation and dehydration afterwards. Campaign group the Total Environment Centre said the government was not doing enough to help the animals and said management plans needed to be put in place. Director Jeff Angel added: ‘Survival of koalas is at emergency level with the decline of populations, loss of habitat and the bushfires. ‘We urge the government to do more, and quickly. Local residents have been rescuing the marsupials or taking them to specialist centres, where they have been treated for burns.
You can help Koalas and other animals affected by the devasting fires by supporting the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital fundraiser to help provide and build drinking stations in fire affected regions across New South Wales.
Protect All Wildlife are advocates for wildlife and expose animal abuse and abusers wherever in the world they are. We will NEVER stop fighting for better animal rights and welfare.
We are proud to have financially supported charities like DSWT, Thula Thula Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, Lion Aid, The Orangutan Foundation, Elephantopia and PupAid through taking part in sponsored runs, skydiving and abseiling events.
Proceeds from sales go towards my various fundraising activities for animal charities. To date Protect All Wildlife have raised over £25,000 for animals.
death came sooner than we had expected. “But we knew that she was starting to
suffer significant pain from the growing pressure of the tumours into the
bladder,” said Augustine Tuuga, director of Sabah Wildlife Department in a
The statement added that veterinarian at Borneo Rhino Sanctuary Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, had earlier today suggested to start using morphine tomorrow, as other painkillers were becoming insufficient.
Wildlife Department had hoped that it would still be possible to obtain some
egg cells from Iman for the proposed Malaysia-Indonesia collaboration on this
signing of a Memorandum of Understanding is still pending.
reported that State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina
Liew had said the state government is hoping to expedite the legality process
with Indonesia to fertilise Iman’s egg with the republic’s male Rhino and
surrogate female Rhino.
like to inform our counterparts in Indonesia that I am keen to pursue the MoU.
Iman’s death is a tragedy, but this is one event in a bigger picture.
still ways in which our twin countries can usefully collaborate based on our
different experience over the past decade.
that includes management of female Sumatran Rhinos with reproductive pathology,
safe harvesting of gametes from living Rhinos, and cell culture. Iman and Tam
both live on as cell cultures in Malaysia,” said Liew.
knowing that Iman’s death was imminent, Liew said she was still very saddened
by this news.
given the very best care and attention ever since her capture in March 2014
right up to the moment she passed.
could have done more. She was actually quite close to death when sudden massive
blood loss from the uterine tumours occurred on several occasions over the past
few years,” she added.
In addition, Liew said the team at Tabin Wildlife Reserve provided round-the-clock intensive support and successfully brought her back to good health and egg cell production on several occasions.
Wednesday, the 25-year-old Iman was reported as deteriorating from
The tumour has been with her since her capture and had spread to her urinary bladder.
When Erikas Plucas came back home one ordinary day he found a baby moose lying all by herself just outside his gate. “The first sight of her was heart breaking,” said Erikas, who lives in Lithuania. “She was starved, dirty, sad, her fur was infested with flies, and she was so terrified of me when she first saw me but was too weak to run away, to even get up.” Once he established that the calf was all alone, Erikas approached it ever so carefully so as not to frighten it. On closer inspection, he noticed that it was a female moose who was no older than two weeks. She was in bad shape, and that’s when Erikas figured out what had happened to her mother.
Erikas believed that the female moose’s mother was killed by
hunters, and in search of safety, the baby moose ran onto the property of the
farm to evade the hunters. It also looked like the calf got injured on the way.
Like most people would have done, Erikas called up family and
friends to ask for advice and tips, but he was met with aggression. “‘It is
illegal, you should not do it. Let nature take care of it,” were the kind of
comments Erikas received.
Erikas decided to keep her, and a magical friendship formed between the animal and the man. He was excited to keep the female moose and named her Emma. The first few weeks were very challenging for him; it was as if fatherhood crept up on him from nowhere. Emma needed to eat every few hours and couldn’t be left alone for too long.
At first, Erikas would feed her every four hours, and even
sleep next to her in the barn or outside to make sure the animal felt safe.
Eventually, it was time to release the moose back into the wild. At first, Emma was terrified of the forest, but she felt safe with Erikas and therefore followed him into the wild as he helped her search for food. He hoped Emma would learn how to fend for herself like any other moose in the wild. So, would Emma finally move into the wild?
Erikas was thrilled to see Emma roaming free in the woods, but he knew that she could fall victim to the local hunters just like her mother did. He couldn’t stand the thought of losing his beloved Emma, but he couldn’t keep her on the farm either.
To avoid the inevitable, Erikas invited the local hunters over to try and get them on his side. “I had some hunters over for them to see her as not just a nice, warm steak with potatoes and vegetables on the table, but as a very intelligent and loving animal,” he said. Would his plan work?
Erikas’s plan went surprisingly well, and after the hunters witnessed the relationship between Emma and Erikas, they had a complete change of heart. Some of the hunters agreed not to hunt her, while others promised not to hunt moose at all.
The biggest victory for Erikas was that some hunters decided to put down their weapons and stop hunting altogether. He was ecstatic to hear the news, but then Emma showed up with an even bigger surprise than he could have imagined.
Emma visited her ‘dad’ every single day!
After Emma moved back into the wild, Erikas noticed her stomach looking rather round and significantly bigger. It was clear that she was pregnant, and at that moment, Erikas was reassured that Emma really was doing well in the wild. She was starting her own family! Soon Erikas will get even more visitors – and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“She turned my life upside down. Being a man, I became a mother to a moose,” Erikas said. “I’m her world now and she is mine,” Erikas said. “Sometimes I wonder was it me who saved her or is it the other way around?”.
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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