Shasthamkotta Neelakantan, a tusker of Sree Dharma Sastha temple in Kollam district of Kerala, died at the Elephant Rehabilitation Centre at Kottur. He had been struggling, battling pain from multiple wounds and on Saturday morning, the tusker succumbed to his injuries.
Neelakantan was 6 years old when in 2003 he was donated to the temple, which is under state forest department. Since then, he had been everyone's favourite, especially during temple festival processions. However, when his training with mahouts began, so did the torture.
Soon, signs of injuries became conspicuous. The temple eventually stopped presenting him at festivals. Even when they did, at times, some people allegedly complained to the temple authorities, saying that the pachyderm was sick.
The systematic neglect and abuse
It was on December 4, 2018, that a video about the tusker, taken by a member of People for Animals, first surfaced on social media. It showed his plight. He had severe wounds on his legs, as a result of being constantly shackled. His front legs were distinctly bent and swollen. Arthritis worsened his condition, and as a result, the elephant was struggling to stand. The video was taken inside the temple premises and the next day, PFA activists requested the Kerala government to take immediate action.
After the video surfaced, on December 11 that year, the Kerala High Court filed a suo motu case and asked the forest department to submit a report. “We also filed a petition in the HC, requesting to shift Neelakantan from the temple premises to a treatment centre. Following this, on December 21 last year, after a long time, he was unchained and given a bath,” Angels Nair secretary of Perumbavoor-based NGO Animal Legal Force (ALF) told TNM.
People for Animals (PFA) and Society for Elephant Welfare (SEW) had also filed separate petitions in the court.
Though the temple authorities claimed that the elephant already had a limp in one leg when he was offered to the temple in 2003, activists allege that his mahout stabbed him in the leg.
“He was six years old when he was offered to the temple. He was healthy then. We have people’s statements and medical records to prove that in 2010, his mahout Suresh stabbed his leg. The mahout was later suspended. Neelakantan was not given proper treatment after that. We had submitted all documents in the court,” PFA member Sreedevi S Kartha told TNM.
Activists have also claimed that the stab wounds had caused serious fractures. Left untreated, the wounds later festered into infections and permanent chaining had also made the elephant weak, they said.
In their petitions, ALF, PFA and SEW requested that Neelakantan be shifted to Wildlife SOS in Agra for better treatment. The high court, however, observed that it would be difficult to shift the elephant to Agra as Neelakantan’s condition was weak.
“The court was misled by the forest department. They claimed that all facilities at SOS Agra will be provided to Neelakantan at the rehabilitation centre in Kottoor. The centre at Kottoor has 18 elephants but no veterinarian doctn was not given proper food. “At the Kottoor rehab centre, Neelakantan was not tortured, but there were not enough facilities to help him get better,” she said.
For the past many days, Neelakantan had not been able to stand, as the wounds in his legs had worsened. On Saturday, unable to bear the pain, the tusker passed away, with chains still clasped to his legs.