Ambalapuzha Vijayakrishnan, a 51-year-old elephant owned by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), was taken to a temple in Kollam’s Kundara area, to be paraded in a temple festival in Kerala on Saturday. However, according to a few animal rights activists, the elephant had an injury on its leg, yet the veterinarian under the TDB allegedly deemed it “fit.” The activists, fortunately, intervened and managed to stop the elephant from being paraded at the temple festival, with the help of the Forest Department.
The elephant was brought back from Kollam to Alappuzha on Saturday. They, however, have alleged a major lapse in the procedure, asking how a sick elephant was granted a fitness certificate. “It is really unethical that a veterinary doctor declared the elephant fit to be paraded when he had, in fact, noted that there was swelling in the elephant's leg. It is to be noted that it is only based on these fitness certificates that captive elephants are given permission to be paraded and under this circumstance, lapses like this cannot be tolerated and must not happen at any cost. More often than not, business interests are prioritised over the elephant’s health and welfare and that is the sad state of captive elephants everywhere,” says Sally Varma, Animal Advocate and Animal Welfare Board of India’s Nominee Member for captive elephant management committee in Alappuzha district.
The medical certificate that deemed the elephant fit, which TNM has accessed, was issued by Dr Sasindradev, a veterinarian of the TDB. It states that the “elephant has swelling in the right limb.” It also adds that the elephant is fit to be paraded in the temple festival. The health certificate, issued on March 24, also says, “The elephant is found to be apparently healthy, fed properly, docile and manageable by mahouts, free from visible symptoms of musth and does not appear to be suffering from any infectious or contagious diseases. The elephant mentioned above may be permitted to participate in cultural/ceremonial functions having a duration of 1-2 hours with full complements of restrainments, control and management under competent mahouts and observing the provisions of laws in force.”
Incidentally, the videos and visuals of the elephant with swelling on one of its legs were widely shared on social media after the pachyderm was taken to Kollam. Following the intervention of the activists, the officials of the Forest Department inspected the elephant in Kollam. After finding it unfit, the elephant was moved from the spot. However, Forest Department officials note that during the time of issuing the fitness certificate, the elephant did not have a major swelling.
“As told by the doctor, the elephant’s one leg had a swelling as it had ‘kidapudheenam’, a disease that elephants get when they are locked in one place for too long without movement. The doctor recommended that the elephant should be made to walk in order to help the swelling subside. Within two days, swelling reduced and that is how a fitness certificate was issued,” says the officer of the Forest Department in Alappuzha.
He also adds that the same doctor who issued the certificate, later assessed the condition of the elephant after it was taken to Kollam. “After getting a complaint, the doctor came with the forest officials and found that the swelling reappeared. Hence, the elephant was brought back to Alappuzha,” the officer says.