Mismanagement turns captive elephants violent

April 26th, 2008 - 6:07 pm ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, April 26 (IANS) Lack of proper care and management of captive elephants in India could lead to more violent incidents by berserk pachyderms that cause human casualties, experts said Saturday. “It is purely to wrong management of the elephants and the use of unskilled handlers that is leading to frequent incidents of tamed pachyderms going violent and causing fatalities,” Parbati Baruah, an internationally famous elephant tamer, told IANS.

Baruah, Asia’s only female elephant tamer from the northeastern state of Assam, said Wednesday’s incident of three people killed by a rampaging bull in a Hindu temple in southern India was a result of ‘mismanagement’.

“Elephants are made to toil hard in heat and dust without caring for their wellbeing and such acts invariably enrages the animal, which turns violent over small things. We have seen many such cases in the past,” said Baruah, who has lassoed hundreds of wild elephants since she was 14.

Elephants are used in temple processions and patrol forests while others are used for tourist rides. Some logging is also permitted but there is not enough work to ensure a good living for the number of captive elephants in India after a Supreme Court verdict banned illegal felling of trees.

Experts say the overall health of captive elephants in India is deteriorating as a result of the drop in their earning power.

“It has been going down as most owners can’t provide proper feed,” said Kushal Konwar Sarma, a professor at the College of Veterinary Science in Guwahati and a noted elephant expert.

Also, lack of work and poor nutrition has resulted in some captive elephants displaying disturbing and sometimes dangerous behaviour.

“No work and all rest makes the elephants more virile as they are not in a position to burn their energy,” said Sarma.

This phenomenon in elephants called `musth’ is dangerous when the animal goes berserk, kills people and rampages in settlement areas. Elephant keepers blame the court ruling that bans illegal felling of trees.

“Our elephants used to work in timber transport and earned anything between Rs.40,000 to Rs.50,000 per month,” said Rudra Baishya, who owns two elephants.

“Until recently, owning elephants was like being a king. Now keeping one elephant has become a real burden,” he said. “Today, the elephants don’t even earn Rs.10,000 a year.”

This drop in income has forced elephant owners to employ unskilled handlers or mahouts for their captive animals.

“Unskilled keepers very often cannot detect symptoms of `musth’ in an elephant and other behavioural changes. So it is important that the handlers are skilled and trained,” said Baruah.

In an attempt to minimise dangers of captive elephants turning violent, a weeklong training of mahouts is currently on at the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati where a large number of handlers from across India are taking part.

“This training would go a long way in helping the mahouts understand the animals better and thereby control and check the elephants from going berserk,” said Sarmah.

The elephant owners in Assam say they have to make their elephants hold up traffic so they can ask for money from drivers and passengers to keep their pachyderms alive.

The sight of the keepers making their elephants kneel on roadways while they collect money from cars, truck and bus occupants have become common in Assam. “The elephants would die of hunger if we didn’t beg for money from people on the streets,” said Anil Rajbonshi, 45, owner of two adult elephants.

“We need anywhere between Rs.7,000 to Rs.10,000 a month for their upkeep including food and medicines,” said Rajbonshi.

“I can’t allow my elephants to die. So I take them to the streets for donations. People take my plight sympathetically.”

Authorities estimate there are about 2,500 captive elephants in northeast India.

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