Elephants Starved to Teach Them Tricks (India)


Awhile Damodaran, The New Indian Express

Date Published

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) India, elephants are an endangered species in the country. To create awareness about the conservation of the mammal, an informal group was formed two years ago by a consortium of elephant experts from various NGOs along with common people.

“The group Friends of Elephants,” says Ramesh Belagere, “aims to bring general public on a common forum in talk with policymakers, experts and veterinary doctors to educate and conserve the species.” About 25 to 30 members and several volunteers are part of the group. The managing trustee of Foundation for Ecology and Education Development (FEED) Ramesh says, “We organise music shows, marches, dance programmes – with elephants as the theme. We talk about subjects such as poaching, elephant corridors and railways as a barrier for elephants in the last week of every month. At the last session held on April 25, we discussed about why elephants lose temper and attack people, following Thrissur pooram-tragedy.”

Shilpa Mahbubani who works with WRRC (Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre) says that people should not encourage the use of elephants in circuses, temples or poorams. Elephants are born to be wild, so place them in the wild, he says. “There are about 3,500 elephants in captivity, out of which about 700 are in Kerala alone. These animals are put in concrete rooms and made to perform tricks,” she says. Explaining further she adds that even the training methods are brutal. They are beaten and starved if they fail to obey. About 20 to 30 male elephants are used in pooram where they are not given food or water for hours. Conservation of elephants is important as they can help in protecting the forests. Ramesh explains, “Unlike the goats or sheeps, elephants do not eat from one end of the plants or trees. They bring down the entire tree. The broken tree helps the sunlight to hit the ground and that in turn helps in regenerating the other feeds.”

Also, elephant is one of the animals who have the weakest digestive system. Only forty percent of what it eats is converted to energy. “As they keep moving, the seeds of the plants they feed on remain in the dung which helps to pollinate. Dung acts as manures,” he adds.

Elephants are matriarchal in nature. Researcher at A ROCHA, Avinash Krishnan says, “The female members of the herd always remain together.” His colleague Arunye Gayathri adds that they migrate seasonally or annually in search of food, water and mate. “On an average, one can find 100 to 120 elephants in Bannerghatta National Park.”

It is said that one of the biggest conflicts globally is the human – elephant conflict. Avinash adds, “The threats to these species differ in different landscape. The challenge in the South East Asian countries is the fragmentation of the forest area.”Though most of the members work towards the conservation of elephants in their respective organisations.