In hot Kerala, captive elephants lose cool

March 20th, 2010 - 10:59 am ICT by IANS  

By Sanu George
Thiruvananthapuram, March 20 (IANS) Captive elephants in Kerala are feeling the heat of temple festivals. Often working overtime, without sufficient food and water in this hot season, they are going berserk on a daily basis.

“In the past two weeks, several elephants have gone berserk. Elephants are overly stressed, especially in the months from March to May when temple festivals are at their peak,” elephant expert Jacob Cheeran told IANS.

“The black skin of the elephant and its huge body are factors that increase thermal stress.”

Kerala has around 800 captive elephants. Even though there are rules that no elephant should be allowed to perform any sort of activity from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m, the guidelines are not followed as the animal is most sought after during this season for temple festivals and is a major source of income for elephant owners.

State Forest Minister Binoy Viswam agreed that there are problems.

“The real villains are the elephant brokers, who take these elephants on rent from the owners and even though they say they will take care of them, it unfortunately does not happen because they are transported from one temple to another,” he said.

An elephant owner hands over the animal to a broker and gets more than Rs.50,000 per month. The brokers draw up tour programmes for elephants and take them from one place to another.

The minister also said that when his ministry started to act tough and take cases against them, “the elephant owners spread canards that we Communists are against temples and rituals”.

“Their aim is to make money and in the guise of belief they twist issues. We all know that this is never for God but just for the benefit of these brokers,” Viswam said.

Recently, the government has made it compulsory for all elephant owners to take a third party insurance for the elephants so that damages can be claimed when the elephants go berserk and the mahouts are covered.

Cheeran said that the brokers make maximum bookings and throw caution to the wind as “their only interest is to earn as much as possible by taking these elephants to as many temple festivals as possible in a month”.

“With less time and so many bookings, these elephants do not get enough time to have a good meal. On an average, they require 200 kg of fodder every day and unlike other animals, elephants are slow eaters. They need a minimum of five hours to eat. But since they do not have enough time, they fail to eat properly,” he said.

Another factor that is responsible for the stress is shortage of water because of paucity of summer rains, he said.

“On an average, an elephant requires 125 litres to drink and more than 200 litres of water to bathe every day to keep itself cool,” he said.

North Kerala, particularly the Palakkad district, which has a large number of temples, has been recording a maximum of 40 degrees Celsius for the past many days.

According to the meteorological office, the state has received 85 percent less rainfall in March as compared to previous years.

(Sanu George can be contacted at

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