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Another captive elephant in Kerala is on the death row, rotting away standing on his urine and excrement. His name is Thriprayar Ramachandran, in his early forties. For the past one year, he has been suffering from foot rot, and recently contracted a lung infection. Making matters worse is the fact that the poor animal has no teeth, and struggles to eat normally.

Thriprayar Ramachandran's Foot Rot is Intensifying, Photo Courtesy: HATF

Despite his deteriorating health, the poor elephant was chained in the same spot this year, making it impossible to escape the boisterous noise and terrifying explosions that would've certainly exacerbated his agony.

Thriprayar Ramachandran struggles to stand on his four legs, Photo Courtesy: HATF

Unable to eat or breathe or stand properly on his four legs, this poor elephant is now silently awaiting the end of a dark and miserable life. Heritage Animal Task Force (HATF) Secretary, Venkitachalam decries that the Cochin Devaswom Board is doing nothing to alleviate the suffering of this animal or provide medical care.

"As it cannot eat leaves, the Cochin Devaswom Board is not considering any alternative means of fodder to maintain its health. There isn't pure water for elephant where they have tethered him. The appointment of P.B. Giridas as a consulting veterinarian is on a temporary basis, and he has no obligation to visit the ailing elephant daily. They are waiting for the slow death of that elephant."

As of June 2017, 14 Festival elephants have died in Kerala, three of them in a span of five days, with 40 elephants dead in the past 18 months. So why are they rapidly withering away? Suparna Ganguly, Co-Founder and Hon. President of the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, who initiated in-depth studies on the plight of captive elephants, puts it bluntly:

"It is happening due to callousness, cruelty and possibly to get rid of ailing elephants which are a burden on the custodian who has extracted its last ounce of profit from its usage in festivals. So, time for the elephant to go and that is the driving motive."

It may seem preposterous to even comprehend that the owners would stand by watching their ailing elephants suffer to death. But this insidious practice fueled by greed seems to have become a norm in Kerala. According to Ms. Ganguly, for small insurance premiums, the owners can make large sums of money when their elephants die.

"Possibly from Rupees 5- 40 lakhs, depending on how much they have insured the animal for. And that clearly depends on how much they can extract out of the animal in its work and earning capacity."

That's a whopping US$8,000-US$67,000, a huge compensation for the death of one elephant. This is what it boils down to. When an elephant becomes sick or is unable to perform in as many festivals and generate enough income to sustain itself, it becomes a liability. It's much more profitable for the owners to allow the animal to die, and claim insurance money, rather than dig into their deep pockets for geriatric or medical care.

According to the HATF secretary, the insurance companies in Kerala have formulated full cover insurance policies to enable illegal elephant ownership. The owners only have to submit records showing that they had arranged proper veterinary care to save the elephant 15 days before its death.

"Therefore if the illegal elephant owner is ready to pay at least Rupees One Lakh as a gift to the veterinarians who conduct the postmortem, they give all the manipulated records to the insurance company stating that the cause of death of elephant is quite natural and normal."

In November 2015 the President of the Idukki SPCA, Mr. Jaychandran alerted the United India Insurance Company that elephants cannot be insured in the absence of pertinent certificates under Section 42 and the declaration in Section 40 of the 1972 Act, inadequate housing facilities for elephants, and absence of ownership certificates for performing elephants. But the defiant insurance company argued that even if they denied coverage, other companies would offer it in the absence of required certificates.

Meantime, referring to the Wildlife Protection Act, Ms. Ganguly contends that elephants cannot be used commercially, but are being trafficked in the broad daylight, as authorities turn a blind eye. And she's convinced that collusion is happening on every level "allowing custodians and traders to rule the roost!"

"Our current laws would have been sufficient to protect and safeguard the elephants, if the State had not been in collusion with the Elephant Business. So many malpractices crept in, that it became traditionally difficult for officers to act in conformance with the WLPA [Wildlife Protection Act]."

Despite such stark evidence, it is such a travesty that the state governments are blatantly contriving with the offenders, rather than enforcing the laws created to protect India's iconic animal. With minimal maintenance and maximal exploitation, the owners mint money parading the defenseless elephants when they are alive and collect huge compensations after they die. Perhaps this could explain why they refuse to release the suffering elephants into rehabilitation centers or semi-wild sanctuaries.

Recklessness driven by greed and selfishness are pushing a keystone species to the brink of extinction. These magnificent animals are captured illegally from the wild, brutalized until submission, and exploited for profit. These noble animals are then denied the most basic necessities of life, despite the fact that they toil day and night to provide livelihoods for thousands of people in the elephant industry.

So continues the sad saga of India's Heritage Animal that is knocking on our doorsteps, issuing a clarion call to protect its species and ensure its survival. They seem to know intuitively that if they perish the entire forest ecosystems will collapse, bringing down with it the most arrogant and ignorant species on earth.

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