Article By: Shreelatha Nayak Kodialbail
Elephants are the largest terrestrial animals on earth. They are most loved and regarded as very social, emotional and intelligent animals in the world. Baby elephants are especially affable and adorable. Asian cultures represent elephant as a symbol of “wisdom,” especially for their memory and intelligence. India is home to over half of Asia’s elephants. In the past, the forests of India were literally teemed with elephants. They have played an important role in the country’s history and cultural heritage and have always been admired. Here an attempt is made to know the plight of the pachyderm which remains on the streets of a concrete jungle throughout the day.
The clinging of the bell and a high pitched voice saying ‘Amma Ganapathi aaya hai kuch Khane ke liye dho’ (the incarnation of Lord Ganesh is at your door step please feed him) is quite common in the city. The group of saffron clad men with a muslin bag and ash smeared on their forehead is often seen on roads with the innocent pachyderm, almost on all days of the week. The elephant may need a coconut or some plantains to eat. Then what is the purpose of carrying a receipt book and then demand money from the people? This is a matter to be judged by the people and the Department of Forests.
“According to Schedule (1) one can own an elephant and must have the letter of permission given by the chief wildlife warden. The persons concerned must also have the value certificate of housing and upkeeping of the animal. Even if the person has such a certificate, still it would be illegal as the huge animal would lack proper maintenance, rest, food and shelter, as it would be on the move most of the times,” says Suma R Nayak, Advocate.
The elephants, which walk up to miles a day with their families in their natural habitat, are shackled in their front and hind legs so that they cannot take a step forward or backward. In this instance, the animals are forced to walk on tar and concrete roads for hours even in extreme temperatures. During the day time the concretized roads of the city remain very hot and hence the pavements burn the soles of the elephant’s feet which are designed for walking in jungle and not on burning concrete.
Training these elephants to perform acts and walk as per the owner’s order requires painful whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods and other tools. ‘Taking the elephants on road is surely an illegal act and a crime committed in the name of various temples. The animals lack food and rest. It is sad to note that the Department of Forests has not taken strict action against such practices’, says Charles Paul, Honorary Secretary of Animal Care Trust.
Rearing elephants has now become a part of a flourishing business. The presence of an elephant greatly enhances the status and money raising capability in the name of God and temples. Elephants value exploring their environment, nurturing their young, courting and mating, and playing. However, in captivity, they are prevented from doing all of these things and instead live a life based on human wants and whims one must not forget that elephants are not designed for the urban jungle. Many owners and mahouts use the elephants to exploit the public reverence for the animals by using them to beg for money on the streets. That the Department of Forests has still preferred to close its eyes on this pertinent issue is a matter of great concern.
Most street elephants start working in the morning with the ‘self-proclaimed’ saints constantly behind them. “Due to lack of shade the elephants are left unprotected from the rays of the sun. They are in absolute agony as the skin peels from their backs. Often they also have inadequate water supply. They need 60 gallons of water in a day. Elephants have sensitive stomachs yet most of the diet of a street elephant is contaminated by pollution, pesticides or both. Similarly, the air the elephants breathe is choked by pollution and exhaust fumes’, says Dr Prabhakar Rao, veterinarian.
Normally Elephants are prone to accidents and other hazards when they are out of a familiar environment. There have been incidents when these street elephants have been frightened by the ear-shattering vehicle horns or other disturbances.
According to H Jayaprakash Bhandary, Director, Pilikula Biological park, the minimum food required by elephants is 8 kgs of ragi, 8 kgs of horse gram, one coconut, vegetables and jaggery, and gallons of water daily in the morning and evening.
When compared to the maintenance of elephants in the zoo, the condition of these street elephants is pathetic. The elephants in zoo are given bathe by the mahouts on daily basis and coconut oil is applied to their head. They are also given regular medical check-up by the veterinary doctors.
Yet another thing for which these pachyderms are in much demand is for their ‘Tusk’ or ‘ivory.’ The only way to prevent harm done to these huge creatures for the sake of their tusk is for the people to refrain from buying items made of ivory.
The government on its part is also striving to protect this animal. Under Project Elephant (PE), a centrally sponsored scheme, launched in February 1992 financial and technical support is provided to major elephant bearing states in the country for protection of elephants, their habitats and corridors. Organisations like PETA, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) etc are striving in their own way for the conservation of elephants. But is that enough?
But, it is only when there is a growing public awareness that the practice of taking the elephants on the streets, begging for alms and food by some people, in the name of some temples, can be prevented. The Department of Forests too must take serious note of this and take requisite action to prevent these people who virtually torture the innocent creatures, probably for their own gains.