Environmentalists allege that a number of elephant calves, rescued by the Kerala Forest department die in their custody without getting proper care. Animal Legal Force (ALF), an NGO has alleged that three baby elephants, two rescued from Malappuram district and one from Kozhikode, died in a span of 12 days since September 22.
"Forest department, actually ‘kidnaps' elephant calves whenever they are found isolated or separated from their parent herd. They call it 'rescuing' but they don't try to reunite it with the herd. They falsely claim that the calf doesn't go back to the herd or the herd rejected the calf," Angels Nair, General Secretary of ALF, alleges.
Criticising the Forest department, he said that it makes no effort to send back the calves who get isolated and instead shift the animal to different elephant training centres in Kerala to promote tourism.
"These elephant calves are being displayed for tourists in the elephant training and rehabilitation centres of Kodanad, Kottur, Konni etc..." he says.
Echoing Angels' allegations, VK Venkitachalam, secretary of another NGO Heritage Animal Task Force, has also claimed that Kerala Forest department takes no effort to reunite the lost baby elephants with the herd. He said that around 375 baby elephants in the age group of two weeks to 18 months, have died in the last 22 years.
"There is no protocol to rescue and rehabilitate a lost elephant calf in Kerala. In many countries, they follow a protocol to reunite lost calves. Officials have to stay inside the forest monitoring the calf until it is reunited with the herd. But here, they bring the calf into the human settlement area in a vehicle and expect the herd to find the lost elephant," he says.
He also pointed out that the mother elephant's presence and milk are very much important for a calf to survive. "The lost calf will be already stressed as it was away from its mother. Besides, carrying them in a vehicle and making them stand on a cement floor will increase their stress and can result in infections. Very few of them will survive," Venkitachalam adds.
Venkitachalam says that the department should at least provide proper care of these calves that are being captured. "Appropriate shelter, maintaining proper humidity, food that is suitable for elephant calves, and proper treatment should be given. There are instances in West Bengal where calves are getting medically treated for 3 months before joining back with the herd," he says.
He also agrees with Angels Nair that the Forest department might be capturing the calves to display them in the elephant centres.
However, denying all the allegations, Jose Mathew, Assistant Conservator of Forest North Nilambur told The News Minute that they shift the lost calves to elephant centres only after making sure that the calf is not in a position to join back the herd.
“Recently, we got two calves. One died instantly as it was sick. Another one we tried to reunite with the herd but the herd rejected it. It was then that we shifted it to Kottur centre in Thiruvananthapuram. When we get a calf, we give it proper treatment and make all efforts to send it back,” he asserted.