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Asian elephants have been elevated to India’s Heritage Animal status, featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala. But ironically these same animals are captured and tortured for status quo and material gain.

Of the 3000 captive elephants in India, more than 21 per cent – at least 800 of them – mostly bulls, are used in Kerala’s cultural festivities and temple rituals.  These male Asians elephants, also known as tuskers (as females don’t have tusks) are adorned in gold-plated ornaments and flaunted near temple grounds, particularly in the areas surrounding Trissur city – Kerala’s cultural capital.

Kerala’s festival season that falls between December and May is a period of booming business for elephant owners, mahouts and brokers. But it’s a torturous period for the elephants, as they are paraded through massive crowds in the scorching heat carrying nearly close to 800 lbs of weight, including four men on their back, a massive frame engraved with their deity, and heavy ornaments with all four legs shackled.

Worse yet, this is their peak mating season – called Musth – when bulls become dominant, desperate to release their built up energy and fat reserves.  It’s impossible and indeed risky to coerce the elephants to parade during their musth, so they are tethered 24/7 in limited space.  It’s difficult to even comprehend the physical and psychological impact on these elephants!!

Don’t you think depriving them of their basic instinct to mate is in itself is torturous? For instance this elephant below had just come of his musth and we were told he was confined to this space 24/7 , fed from a distance, watered with garden hose and as a result was unable to participate in festivities until he fully recovered.

There is enough evidence to suggest, Kerala’s festivities have become a lucrative business, as elephants are being commoditized by a select few clever craftsmen that make all the profit, while the masses are being led to believe that Gods will be happy. People need to wake up to the reprehensible fact that in the guise of religion and culture India’s heritage animal and one of the gentlest sentient beings of our planet is being tortured for status quo and profit.

They are leased out like vehicles, but the only problem with these four-legged vehicles is, they have intense emotions and mood swings.  No wonder the festive elephants run amok, and kill humans, eventually getting killed or captured and tortured even more.

According to figures compiled by Kerala’s Elephant Lovers Association from media reports and wildlife authorities, captive elephants have killed 212 people — majority of them mahouts — in the past 12 years in Kerala. The group also reckons more than 1,000 elephants have died “due to torture” during the same period.

But there’s a glimmer of hope for the endangered Asian elephants. According to one of the lead elephant scientists at ANCF, Surendra Varma the state authorities have been offered solutions, among them three key measures that can be implemented swiftly:

  • Complete ban of elephants in festival

  • Expose elephants to an alternative income source

  • Rehabilitate both elephant and mahouts through care centres

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