The Elephant Story – II
by S Muralidharan on 21 Oct 2022 3 Comments

Animal activism: The Bane of Elephants


Animal rights activists are working for banning all domestic elephants. This is alarming because (i) It works against the preservation of a species which is dying at an alarming rate, (ii) Works against preservation of a 4000-year-old culture, (iii) Is an essential part of patrolling forests and chasing away crop raiders, (iv) Involves no cruelty to the animal and is thus unwarranted. 


Politics and blood money in Animal Rights: A people who have reared elephants for thousands of years are being questioned about the practice. To ban Jallikattu bulls, the then Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh moved bulls into the ‘performing animals’ category under the influence of sitting MP and an ex-official of the Animal Welfare Board of India. Thereafter, every farmer had to take a certificate from the dubious Animal Welfare Board of India to perform ‘Jallikattu’. The farmer’s companion in the fields became an ‘exhibit’ overnight.


It is strange indeed that those who do not follow a tradition question and defame every ancient tradition in India. Those who did not revere Ayyappa questioned Sabarimala practices. Diwali crackers, dahi handi, even mules carrying the young and elderly devotees at the Vaishno Devi shrine, though mules are meant precisely for this activity.


Foreign-funded NGOs: A writ petition [W.P.(C)743 of 2014] was filed by an NGO, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Center (WRRC) in the Supreme Court, jointly with People for Ethical Treatment to Animals (PETA), Wildlife SOS, People for Animals (PFA), Sangita Iyer of Canada and Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society. It prayed to remove all Temple, Private, Zoo and Circus elephants from their current owners and send them to Wildlife shelters across India or given to private shelters (that canvass donations abroad).


Taking away 3000-odd elephants from domestication and maintaining them would cost the government around INR 300 million per month. WRRC NGO abused Kanchi Mutt elephants at their illegal sanctuary at ‘Marakanam’. The three elephants were rescued by us vide W.P. 6030 of 2019, MHC order dated 19 September 2019.


There is no guarantee that elephants snatched from the homes they are to will be happy or properly cared for in sanctuaries. The order passed by the Madras High Court in W.P. 6030 of 2019 upheld the contention that NGOs who took away elephants under the pretext of cruelty and were in fact subjecting them to more cruelty.


Lakshmi elephant of Manakula Vinayagar Temple in Pondicherry was moved in a hurry during the Covid pandemic, as was Thiruparankundram elephant Deivanai, at the instance of a sitting MP who wanted to denude all temples of elephants. In the recent Jayamalyatha a.k.a Joymala incident, PETA and Tamil Nadu activists doctored a video to create an outrage in Assam from where this elephant was received. The Chie Minister was so pressurized that he had to promise his people he would take all necessary steps to bring the elephant back, till some animal welfare activists exposed the sinister plan.


Modus operandi: Pick an issue and propagate through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, and emails, eg., Jallikattu hurting sentiments of Tamil people. Get Vegans to support the cause, pretending to rescue animals. False cruelty videos and presentations to make the gullible part with their money... Officials of statutory bodies like Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), activist lawyers and others are roped in to fight the cause.


Once a ban happens, the condemned animals (bulls) go to the slaughter house; once a confiscation happens, the elephants rot in shelters, while the activists receive millions of dollars in donations. Dollars thus earned are used to fund more operations and destroy more animals. Currently the Supreme Court of India is being urged to ban Jaipur elephant rides with help from friends in Project Elephant division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.


Domestic animals will survive only when they have commercial value. With the advent of tractors, bulls lost commercial value and are going to slaughter. Jallikattu was a great way of preserving bulls. But the American NGO, PETA, an organization that routinely kills stray animals in the US, said the 2000-years-old tradition was cruel to bulls. Letting bulls be slaughtered post ban and endangering the entire species didn’t matter.


They also feel that Rekhla, Khambala and Ongole races should be stopped because of alleged cruelty to bulls, buffaloes, and bullocks. Yet in an age where desi bulls have no commercial value, the only way to keep these species alive is to play these sports.


The century-old Jim Corbett elephant rides were banned on grounds of alleged cruelty. The same logic is being applied to elephant rides in Jaipur, participation of elephants in Trissur Pooram and other Kerala Poorams, Mysore Dashera and all elephants in Hindu Temples across India.




Challenges for private elephants: There are 2500-odd elephants with private owners in India. Most elephants earn a living for their owners and are generally well taken care of, barring a few whose owners suffer due to lack of income.


The biggest problem is the inconsistent approach of the forest department whose officials harass the owners constantly. The Captive Elephants Management and Maintenance Rules, Wildlife Protection Act 1972, Prevention of Cruelties to Animals act 1960, various court orders obtained by activists, and intermittent orders by the forest department has crippled the movement of these elephants, impacted their earnings and resulted in loss of income and neglect of the elephants.


Challenges in the wild: The wild is highly fragmented and hence elephants have lost habitat and are seen wandering outside the forest more often than ever before. An RTI to the Tamil Nadu forest department revealed nearly 500 deaths of wild elephants and half the number of human deaths due to man-elephant conflict in the past five years. The forest department claims there are over 27,000 elephants in the wild according to their census of 2017. The figure is debatable, but the rate of extinction has increased manifold. The Government of India’s “Project Elephant” division had not been effective enough to address these issues.


Foreign-funded Activists


These activists want all performing animals banned, irrespective if there is cruelty or not. The idea derives from the American Soya lobby that promoted the cult of Veganism that preaches that even drinking Milk is cruel and it doesn’t matter if the cows go to slaughter, but they should not be milked (per Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA).


They demand that all performing animals and domestic elephants should be dumped in shelters. Many animals die in shelters, due to neglect and depression caused by separation from their families. Activists never go back to check their real status.


The shelters lack evolved or proper Veterinary care for animals as they have no experience or expertise in handling elephants. Most are in this for the huge donations that come through the FCRA route.


Animal Welfarists


Animal Welfarists believe that “The place where an animal lives, whether it’s a Temple, Zoo, Circus or the Wild, is their habitat and those who live with them, are their family!” Separating an elephant is devastating. Animals pine away and literally die of a broken heart. 


Working elephants are healthy and hence live long. They are given nutritious food. They are given a 3-hour bath daily, and that is why every elephant has a Mahout, an assistant (Kavadi) and a helper. They are given Ayurveda and supplements to prevent any disease.




Raja Chola had 60,000 elephants in his elephant regiment and with their help built the Tanjore temple and conquered South-East Asia. Rameshwaram, Tanjore and all big temples were built using Elephants.


Rather than ban domestic elephants, the government must shut down the illegal elephant sanctuaries that are harming the species.


As India has the largest numbers of Asian Elephants, the Government of India should establish an Asian Elephants Research, Education and Hospital in every Elephant state of India. This facility should serve as a knowledge center for South-East Asia, which is the habitat for Asian Elephants; address issues like man-animal conflict; improve Ayurvedic medicine which is still the best medicine for prevention of diseases in Elephants; set up a Rehabilitation Centre for sick, old, abused Elephants and fight the extinction of the species.


The author is Founder Trustee of Indian Center for Animal Rights and Education (INCARE)



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