Ever heard of elephants becoming victims of revenge plots hatched by their handlers?
On Friday, mahouts of Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran noticed pieces of blade in his rice feed. It was someone's dastardly attempt to kill Ramachandran, a blind tusker, the tallest elephant in Kerala and a crowd puller in temple festivals across the state.
The Thechikkottukavu Temple in Thrissur, which owns the elephant, has filed a complaint with the police but elephant lovers in the state are shocked at the brazen attempt to kill the jumbo which was on a ‘Sukha Chikithsa’ (rejuvenation treatment).
Police believe that Ramachandran could have been the target of a revenge plot, by someone who had scores to settle with Ramachandran’s owners or mahouts, or even a case of rivalry between the owners of different elephants.
“Many people enter the room where the food is prepared, so we cannot yet say who was behind this. There were no CCTV cameras inside that room and since this elephant was famous, many people visit him every day,” says Vasudevan K, Thechikkottukavu temple committee president.
Ramachandran isn't the first elephant to be attacked, but he was lucky enough to escape unhurt. In the 1970s there were instances of attacks in which elephants had died in Thrissur district, after being attacked by unknown people.
An elephant named Nayarambalam Balakrishnan, one of the elephants in the first batch of tuskers brought from Bihar in the 1970s, died in that decade, after it was attacked. Although the autopsy showed that the elephant had been wounded before its death, no one was arrested.
In another incident in 1977, another jumbo named Kattakkada Vishnu, owned by Rahul Timbers, died succumbed from unusual wounds.
According to Thrissur-based NGO Heritage Animal Task Force (HATF) which works for the welfare of elephants, these two deaths were not the only cases, and that elephants have become victims to petty rivalries.
“Take Ramachandran's case. There is so much inside politics involved in this, mainly ego clashes between the temple committee members, elephant owners and many other committees related to temple festivals and elephants,” says VK Venkitachalam, HATF Secretary. He cautions that if at least one person is not caught, such attacks will continue, and most would occur without people even realising it.
“In the name of fan associations many people visit this elephant regularly and the temple committee promotes it, but this should be avoided. An elephant is not an artifact on display,” he adds.
HATF claims that the sexual drives of elephants in captivity in Kerala is controlled by adding additives in the rice feed and is called ‘Sukha Chikithsa’.
“Elephants are basically wild animals, cooked rice is not their (natural) food, so that was the first fault. And I know that they used to mix animal fat in the rice feed to suppress ‘musth’ (in males). All this is against nature’s laws,” he said. (Musth is an annual phenomenon, in which the male elephants experience heightened sexual instinct for a short period)
HATF also said that temple committees replace mahouts from time to time, which creates friction between the mahouts, and could also cause a disgruntled person to inflict settle scores by infliciting harm on the animals.
“An elephant is not something that humans should take care of. The forest is their habitat, and we shouldn’t be feeding them what we want them to eat. (With all this) they become a show piece for hundreds of people who visit the elephant, and may engage in cruelty to the animal,” he says.
HATF is demanding that everyone connected with the temple including all the mahouts who looked after Ramachandran should be questioned, but the temple committee is dismissive.
Vasudevan said that temple staff would “obviously not have a role in such a mean act as Ramachandran is the favourite”. But he also said that the temple committee would pursue the complaint until the complaint until the culprit is caught.