The pachyderm, who is blind in one eye and whose other eye is affected by cataract, has killed 13 people and three elephants, which is why it was banned.

Keralas star tusker Ramachandran turned aggressive due to repeated torture Experts
news Animal's Health Friday, May 10, 2019 - 17:34

Thrissur Pooram is scheduled to be held on May 13, and with it, Kerala has been witnessing a demand to lift a ban on a 54-year-old elephant. The Elephant Owners Association and fans of the star tusker Thechikottukavu Ramachandran have been demanding that the ban on parading the elephant be lifted. The pachyderm, who is blind in one eye and whose other eye is affected by cataract has killed 13 people and three elephants, which is why it was banned. It has been banned at least six times and the present ban was after it trampled to death two people in February this year.

However, what fans of Ramachandran are forgetting is that the temperament of the partially blind tusker, which at least 54 years old, has become aggressive due to the torture and cruelty it has faced at the hands of humans. And Ramachandran is not the only one to endure torture. According to information available with animal rights activists, the number of elephants in the state has reduced from 3000 to around 300 in the last five years. Up to 17 elephants have died this year alone, and 57 had died last year.

“The average life expectancy of an elephant is 80 years. All of the 57 elephants that died in 2018 were less than 50 years old. Most of the deaths were caused by torture and a few by diseases, born out of torture,” says Sreedevi S Kartha, an animal rights activist with People for Animals (PFA). “For instance, one elephant died after he was constipated for 61 days. One elephant named Karnan was paraded forty times in sixty days in the just-concluded festival season.”

“Where were all the elephant lovers when these elephants were being overworked, neglected and tortured? How hypocritical it is of them to clamour now to lift the ban on the Ramachandran now,” Sreedevi argues.

Originally raised in Bihar as Moti Prasad, Ramachandran was bought by elephant contractor KN Venkatidri in 1982 and brought to Kerala. The owner renamed the elephant as Ganeshan and appointed a mahout for the tusker. Within a year, Venkatidri sold the elephant to the Peramangalam Thechikottukavu temple in Thrissur, which is where the pachyderm has been since. The temple Devaswom renamed him Ramachandran and used him for temple festivals.

It was here that he lost his first eye. The elephant only understood Hindi and Bhojpuri, neither of which the mahout spoke. In frustration, the mahout hit the animal in the eye with a sharp object, making it blind in that eye.

“It is the consistent torture that has made Ramachandran so aggressive over the years. Mahouts had been trying to discipline the huge elephant using all kind of torture. When one mahout is replaced by another, the new person would try to rein the animal in his own way; repeating the cycle of confusion, fear and torture with the animal. This has made it aggressive and violent. This is the case with other elephants too. The mahouts hit them, wound them, and then hit them on the wounds again. This prevents the wounds from healing and can cause infections,” Sreedevi says.

According to her, the giant elephant is hired for parades for a price of Rs 4-5 lakh, which is the real reason that temple authorities want the ban to be lifted; not ‘love’ for the animal. Ramachandran is nothing but a means to earn money for the Thechikottukavu Devaswom, she alleges.

Furthermore, proper precautions for the safety of the people and wellbeing of the animal are also not followed. For instance, it is important to check an animal’s behaviour before promoting or banning it, says Dr Rama Kumar, a veterinary surgeon and former Secretary of the Indian Veterinary Council. This applies for elephants too, but is rarely done.  

“Being a wild animal, an elephant would show reactions accordingly. However behavioural studies on animals being used for such festivals are rarely done in Kerala. No one talks to experts prior to submitting recommendations to the government,” he says. “People should stand at a minimum distance of ten feet distance from an elephant, but no one follows this when the animals are paraded in festivals or in public places. When people and crowds stand nearby, the elephant can become nervous.”

Dr Rama further explains that fans don’t take into account whether the animal’s needs are being met. For instance, an elephant needs 150 to 250 litres of water every day. If this is not given, it will want to search for it frantically. “But the elephants’ fans don’t care about such needs of the animal. The activists, on their part, need to bring such facts before the government, supported by experts’ opinions so that effective steps can be formulated and taken for the protection of these animals.” 

Ramachandran has been known to attract scores of people while being paraded. Its ‘star value’ has to do with it being the tallest elephant in captivity, standing at 10 feet and three inches. The hype around it makes fans to overlook its aggressive nature and the torture it has been subjected to, Sreedevi says. “The elephant was paraded between 10 and 30 times even after the ban came to force. People are lying even about its age - it is around 65 years old, not 54,” she adds.

Incidentally, it was PFA that exposed the torture of another elephant – 20-year-old Neelakantan – owned by Sree Dharma Sastha temple at Sasthamkotta in Kollam. The Kerala HC took a suo motu case in the incident.

Read: Tortured, neglected and starved: Kerala HC to decide fate of temple elephant Neelakantan



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