A gentle giant in captivity

Thanks to scientific advances, threatening / injured elephants in the wild are captured using tranquilizer guns under expert supervision, with minimal trauma to the animals

Elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet that roam free in the wild. Yet the man captured. tamed and kept in captivity for a long time.

Now the correctness of keeping elephants in captivity is being questioned in the Madras High Court. After deliberating on the matter for some time, the High Court, in an interim order, ruled against capturing elephants in captivity in the future.

The practice of capturing wild Asian elephants, then taming and training them to work, appears to have originated around 4,000 years ago, according to epic references, according to Shekhar Kumar Niraj, senior chief curator of the forests (PCCF) and chief wildlife custodian. (CWLW).

The Matanga Leela, an interpretation of Gaja Shastra by Sanskrit poet Nilakanta, talks about five different techniques that can be used to capture elephants – leading them into enclosures or fences, using female elephants as bait, tying the elephant, following the animal until ‘he gets tired and place a noose in a small pit before luring the elephant into the pit with food.

Thanks to scientific advancements, threatening / injured elephants in the wild are now captured by the Forestry Department using tranquilizer guns under the supervision of expert veterinarians, with minimal trauma to the animals, Mr. Niraj to the High Court in a comprehensive report called for by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu in response to a public interest litigation motion.

Taming the jumbos

After capture, the method used to tame the animal is human training based on positive reinforcement / reward. The traditional way to train an elephant is to establish dominance through various methods. Forced submission, the most common of these, has drawn criticism around the world. This method is mainly used during the open training of animals, a practice generally followed in Northeast India and Southeast Asia.

A gentle giant in captivity

“During open training, the elephant has more opportunities to show resistance and aggression, potentially endangering the life of the trainer. This method therefore leads to subjecting the animal to more torture to control its behavior. The Tamil Nadu Forestry Department only uses the closed training system, where the captured elephant is confined in a standard 12ft x 12ft kraal or a boma [a wooden enclosure]Says the CWLW.

The floors of the kraal are made of wooden slats, with gaps between them to prevent them from getting wet. The roof is made of tiles or sheets. A small reservoir or large container of water is provided, and care is taken that there are no sharp edges or nails, which could harm the elephant, in the kraal. Mahouts use voice and touch commands and employ a mix of training based on positive reinforcement and reward.

“They were trained to recognize the thin line between punishment and cruelty. Punishment in this context does not necessarily involve physically injuring the animal. This can involve threatening the animal with loud or harsh voice commands, showing the stick, splashing water on the elephant’s face, and sometimes mild physical punishment to prevent unwanted behavior, ”the officer notes. forest.

It takes about 30 days for the animal to accept the intervention of the mahout and pick the food directly from its hands. About a week later, the relationship is further strengthened by entering the kraal to feed and check for injuries. Slowly, the mahouts proceed to habituate the elephant.

“Mahouts who lack the necessary patience often fail in this approach,” said the report submitted by the chief game warden. Stating that the kraal’s method of taming elephants differs from others in that it does not push the animal’s limit of tolerance, he says, “The emphasis is on trusting the elephant, without breaking its spirit.

Illegal transfer

So far, the Forestry Department has not marketed any captive elephants in violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephant Rules of 2011 (Management and Maintenance), and directives issued by the Center. Under applicable laws, ownership of a captive elephant can only be through inheritance or acquisition by government agencies through captive transfer.

A gentle giant in captivity

No less than 28 captive elephants in the care of some temples and individuals in the state have received certificates of ownership from the forestry authorities of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These elephants were transported to Tamil Nadu using a transit permit for a limited period, but exceeded the length of stay and did not return to their home states.

“After a certain period, the temple or the private person applied for a certificate of ownership in the state of Tamil Nadu, which is not allowed by law. Steps have been taken for the return of these elephants to their home state, ”Niraj said. It was also brought to the attention of the court that an elephant named Shanthakumari was illegally transported from Kerala to Tamil Nadu without a transit permit.

Missing elephant

Implantation of microchips with unique identification numbers into elephant ears is a method used by the Forestry Department to identify and monitor animals. Of 127 elephants captive in the state as of October 20, only two are in a zoo (Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai), 62 in forest camps, various temples are in custody of 32, and the other 31 are in private custody.

A gentle giant in captivity

While all temple and private elephants had been microchipped, 12 in the care of the forestry department had yet to be implanted with the chips. When an elephant named Lakshmi, tended by Mr. Soundararajan from Palani in Dindigul district, was transported to an animal rescue center in Rajapalayam for medical treatment, it was found that his microchip number was different from this. that was available in the database.

An investigation revealed that the elephant brought in for treatment was in fact Indhira (chip number 00065DE113) and not Lakshmi. “A case has been brought against Soundararajan for illegally changing the elephant and the captive elephant originally named Lakshmi is missing. An investigation is underway to locate the original elephant Lakshmi, ”said the CWLW.

Other offenses

The Forestry Department has also recorded cases of the private elephant Ritu Kumari being shuttled from one district to another. A captive elephant named Malolan kept at Ahobila Mutt in eastern Tambaram was transported to Kerala in 2015 on a five-year transit permit and was not returned to Tamil Nadu despite the permit expiring. “The owner has been instructed to return it to its original location,” the officer said.

A gentle giant in captivity

Acting on the instructions of the High Court, the department had created a catalog of all the captive elephants in the state and produced a video recording of them (except Lakshmi, Ritu Kumari and Malolan) in a USB stick.

Legal confusion

The PCCF / CWLW informed the court that section 40 (2) of the 1972 law allows the sale of elephants in captivity with the prior authorization of the CWLW. However, Article 43 (1) imposes an embargo on any kind of sale. To get around this embargo, many requests have been received to offer captive elephants by one person to another. The ministry has sought clarification from the central government on whether to authorize the transfer by sale or donation.

A gentle giant in captivity

With respect to temple donations, the exercise is governed by the 2011 rules issued by the state government. Such a donation can be made after obtaining the prior authorization of the CWLW. A state-level committee reviews donation requests based on the financial situation of the donor as well as the temple concerned and makes appropriate recommendations to the CWLW.

To live longer

After public interest litigator Rangarajan Narasimhan from Srirangam took the captive elephant issue to court and complained of mistreatment, a number of elephant owners filed petitions urging the court to hear them also before taking a call on the matter. Meanwhile, the Elsa Foundation, a Delhi-based animal welfare institution, and activist S. Muralidharan also presented their submissions in court.

Arguments have been made both for and against the domestication of wild animals. Interestingly, the PCCF / CWLW, in its report, states: “According to scientific research and recorded evidence, captive elephants have a longer lifespan than wild elephants because captive elephants sometimes receive care. veterinarians and a regular diet with food supplements.

Regular checks

Forest officials and veterinarians regularly check temple and private elephants to make sure they are being treated well. “Strict measures are being taken against defaulters who poorly maintain elephants and engage in mistreatment,” the officer said.

A gentle giant in captivity

However, when lawyer Krishna Ravindran, representing one of the litigants in court, pointed out that many district-level captive elephant protection committees are dysfunctional, the Forestry Department came back saying that appointments for Replenishment committees had been received from 15 of the 18 districts where captive elephants are available in temples and in private custody.

“After receiving the nominations from these districts, a proposal will be sent to the state government for the re-establishment of the captive elephant protection committees at the district level,” said the CWLW.

Expected verdict

While calling on the Forestry Department to catalog all captive elephants in the state along with video recordings, the High Court issued an interim order banning taking elephants into captivity in the future. “The state should ensure that no elephant is taken into captivity except for the purpose of treating these elephants if they are unable to support themselves in the wild. No private person can capture or keep an elephant except those that already exist, ”the Bench ordered.

Now that the cataloging is complete and the PCCF / CWLW has also filed a comprehensive report on the status of captive elephants, all eyes are on other orders to be made by the court solely for the benefit of these good guys. giants.

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