Injured Kerala elephant dies days after it was deemed ‘fit’ for temple fest

According to activists who had been closely monitoring the elephant, the 51-year-old pachyderm had not been consuming food properly.
Ambalapuzha Vijayakrishnan, a 51-year-old elephant in Kerala
Ambalapuzha Vijayakrishnan, a 51-year-old elephant in Kerala
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It was the efforts of a few kind-hearted people that helped rescue Ambalapuzha Vijayakrishnan, an injured captive elephant in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, from being paraded in a temple festival, something for which officials had deemed the tusker ‘fit’. Unfortunately, on Thursday, the 51-year-old elephant, owned by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), succumbed to its illness. According to activists who had been closely monitoring the elephant, it had not been taking food properly for the past few days.

It was on March 29 that a few activists raised alarm that the elephant, which had swelling in one of its limbs, was transported to Kollam from Alappuzha for a temple fest, after a veterinarian under the TDB deemed the pachyderm fit to be paraded. With the intervention of activists, the next day, the elephant was brought back to Alappuzha. Since then, the tusker had been unwell. “Since the past one week, it has turned weaker. The elephant was not taking much food and water. It was on medication, and the doctor had given the elephant in vitro drips since it could not intake food. There was also swelling in its one limb,” said the activist who did not wish to be named.

Officials of the Forest Department in Alappuzha confirmed the elephant’s death. “The reason for the death has to be ascertained by the doctor,” the official said. Meanwhile, the activist alleged that the elephant had been harassed by its new mahout and that the animal could have been psychologically distressed. “For the past many years, a mahout who had been taking care of the elephant. The elephant and the mahout had been widely known for the rapport they share. But three months ago, he was suspended from the job after he was booked by the Excise Department. The new mahout has beaten and assaulted the elephant and the swelling in its limb is also due to that. Despite all this, the elephant was given a fitness certificate to be paraded,” added the activist.

He also allged that the TDB officials did not allow the old mahout to meet the elephant even when it was unwell in the past days. "When it saw the old mahout, who came to visit him, from a distance, it immediately tried to stand up probably with excitement to see him back, but they (TDB workers) did not allow the mahout inside. The elephant was struggling to adapt to the new mahout," the activist alleged.

Reacting to the issue, Sally Varma, Animal Advocate and Animal Welfare Board of India’s Nominee Member for captive elephant management committee in Alappuzha district, told TNM that much introspection is needed on elephant captivity. “The death of Ambalapuzha Vijayakrishnan is an opportunity for us to look at the way we (mis)treat our elephants. While it hurts ​me to see his life end in such a horrific nature, I can’t imagine how difficult his life must have been with the pain he was going through. ​He wasn't the first and he won't be the last to suffer, unless we get our acts together. It is heartbreaking to see majestic creatures such as elephants in captivity. We must look to completely end the captivity of elephants. Ignoring the animals’ welfare and using them perform activities unnatural to them will hurt them and us in the long run." says Sally.

Sally was one of the few persons who had raised alarm when the elephant was deemed fit to be paraded. She also alleges that the TDB officials and the veterinarian are at fault, whose lapse led to the death of the elephant.

Later in the day, scores of people thronged to the temple in Ambalappuzha where the elephant was stationed, protesting against TDB officials.

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