Jumbos will campaign no more

November 22nd, 2008 - 10:42 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 22 (IANS) Gulabkali and Bhola, two amiable jumbos, were among the most sought after at one time, especially during elections. Not this time though, as their mahouts feel lumbering down dusty roads for hours is too strenuous for them.”The animal is after all a living being - it cannot be made to walk the streets for hours on end. Two hours is okay, but the campaigning takes over five hours and we cannot let anyone treat our animals like that,” said mahout Yusuf Ali, 34.

He is among those who own the 15 elephants that have been living for years in the Yamuna riverbed below the busy ITO bridge. Once upon a time, they were a common sight on Delhi’s streets, lending their lumbering grace to wedding processions and poll campaigns carrying ad hoardings draped on their broad backs and giving joyrides.

All that’s becoming rare now. Wildlife protection laws say elephants cannot be made to work. Municipal authorities do not want them fouling up the streets. And now the mahouts that own them have themselves decided not to hire out the jumbos for the poll campaign.

While all that’s to the good, the mahouts are now wondering how they will feed their charges. “They are a big responsibility and high on maintenance - now because of so many restrictions by the government, they are a burden,” Yusuf Ali said.

Each elephant eats 250-300 kg of fodder a day and needs a huge supply of water. The animals are still rented out for wedding processions once in a while and earn Rs.1,000-1,500 for two hours, with two mahouts in attendance. But that’s not enough.

“This hardly covers the cost of maintaining them - let alone give a profit,” Ali’s brother Mohammed Ashraf told IANS.

“Earlier, these elephants that are symbolic of Lord Ganesha were highly revered,” Ashraf pointed out. They are an integral part of many religious rites that commence only after praying before the ‘elephant’ god. But their use in these rituals is going down too.

But despite the financial woes, the mahouts are too much in love with their charges to let them suffer. That is why they have refused the many poll campaign managers who have approached them this year to let the elephants take part in the campaigns.

Ali’s entire family and fellow villagers, who hail from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, take care of the elephants. Earlier, they used to live with the elephants. Now the government has shifted most of them to Sangam Vihar in south Delhi and they have to travel back and forth.

Most of these elephants are 30-40 years old. “They can live up to 65 years - but taking care of them is a major problem,” Ashraf said.

He said that the animals cannot be sold as per a state law issued in 2003 - neither can they be left to fend for themselves “where they will be killed by wild elephants”.

The elephants used to enthrall young children who enjoyed the experience of riding the great humble beasts, for a nominal price of Rs.30 for a round of the block. That too has been stopped.

“They were also a source of income from rides in the city, but a few years back we got instructions from the government that rides are banned, as the animals dirty the roads,” Ali said.

The pachyderms that once the ruled the hearts of numerous children in Delhi are now left with no source of income, at the mercy of their mahouts who may not be able to feed them despite their best intentions.

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