March 17, 1999
This is with reference to several queries we have received regarding an elephant in the custody of Tamil Nadu Forest Department and allegations regarding cruel treatment to the animal. Having ascertained the factual position from the Chief Wildlife Warden of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, it can be stated that the allegations of cruelty are entirely unwarranted. The factual position is as follows:
- A Makhna elephant aged about 35 years was found to be a danger to the life and property of the people in Gudalur area of Nilgiri district, Tamil Nadu. The elephant had been repeatedly raiding the agricultural crops and was responsible for the death of about a dozen people during such raids. On persistent complaints from the people, it was decided to capture this animal and keep it in the Forest Department elephant camp, Theppakkadu, Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary where about 30 animals are already being kept for a conservation and breeding programme. Hence, this animal was tranquilized and captured with the help of trained elephants on 21st July 1998 and brought to the elephant camp.
- To train this animal for domesticated life in the camp, it had to be put in an enclosure made of logs called a "Kraal", which could afford sufficiently free movement of the animal, facilitate feeding and treatment of its wounds and at the same time restrict any violent behaviour. On capture, it was also noticed that the elephant had more than a dozen gun shot wounds which it had received during its crop raiding activity. It seems that some persons, who noticed the elephant was locked into a limited space and had wounds on its body, concluded erroneously that it was being tortured under cruel conditions.
- After treating the animal fully for its wounds and having trained it to obey the commands of its mahout (trainer), the elephant has now been let out of the kraal and made part of the herd maintained in the elephant camp. It is behaving in a fairly docile manner and has taken well to camp life. It responds to all commands of its mahout and looks happy in the company of other elephants in the camp. It has been named as "Moorthy".
- An amount of more than 150,000 rupees has been spent on the medication and upkeep of this animal during its training. One of the best veterinarians Dr. V. Krishnamoorthy, who is a world authority on elephants was engaged to treat the animal and a prescribed balanced diet was provided to it. It has been fully cured of all its wounds and is leading a normal life now. Indian mahouts are supposed to be among the best elephant trainers in the world, who work without the use of the Ankush (iron hook), employed elsewhere. The life of this elephant was under constant threat from certain sections of the public. Had it not been captured and domesticated, it would have certainly faced the assassin's bullet by now. The staff of Tamil Nadu Forest Department has done a commendable job in saving the life of the elephant and its work needs to be lauded.
There have also been several suggestions that the care of the elephant should be handed over to children or other organisations. This suggestion is not only unwarranted but also dangerous, as the animal has already been responsible for death of 12 persons. The Forestry Department, charged with the responsibility of handling the wild animal and ensuring the safety of the people with whom it comes into contact, is best equipped to handle such a situation.