In May, 11-year-old Masini was taken to an elephant rejuvenation centre after she trampled her mahout to death.

Return temple elephant Masini to original habitat seeks petition to Madras HCFile image of Masini/ Antony Rubin
news Court Friday, September 21, 2018 - 15:00

Months after Masini, the 11-year-old female elephant made headlines for trampling her mahout to death at the Samayapuram Mariamman Temple in Trichy district, Tamil Nadu, a petition now seeks her return to the wild. In a petition moved by Chennai-based animal activist Antony Clement Rubin, he appealed to the Department of Environment and Forests to take steps to permanently shift Masini to her original habitat in Theppakadu Mudumalai Camp in the Nilgiris.

In May, the pachyderm knocked her 48-year-old mahout, Gajendran, off her back, inside the temple. As Gajendran tried to bring Masini under control, she trampled him to death.

Isolated from her herd

In his petition, Antony claims that in 2016, after then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa gifted Masini to the Samayapuram temple, Masini started developing behavioural changes.

In his petition, Antony states that Masini had developed a strong bond with other elephants at the Theppakadu Camp, where she was raised for nine years. This bond, he says, was broken once she was isolated from her herd and shifted to the temple.

As the petition states, “When she was living in the camp, she was surrounded by a herd of wild animals and was nurtured with absolute freedom of movement in a natural and free environment with plenty of care and support. After having shifted to the temple, she exhibited great difficulty in getting accustomed to chained captivity, without any free movement.”

Following the tragic incident at the temple, Masini is undergoing treatment at the Veterinary College and Research Institute at Orathanadu, Thanjavur.

Inaction of authorities

The petition slams the Chief Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu for not having acted earlier despite several letters written, over the years, to shift Masini back to the camp.

Speaking to TNM, SV Pravin Rathinam, counsel for the petitioner alleges that that temple authorities are in gross violation of government-issued rules and regulations on the maintenance of temple elephants.

He says, “Firstly, we have sought for Masini’s rehabilitation. We hope Masini’s case will serve as a precedent for the right treatment of other elephants. We are asking for a legal right for the elephants to not be ill-treated.”

Behavioural changes

Antony seeks that Masini and other elephants be granted the status of legal persons.

He explains, “Elephants have a complex social organisation, which is heavily dependent on culture. They also compete with each other, teach each other, share knowledge, understand vocalisations, show empathy and do course planning and risk assessment. It is also pertinent to state that elephants also recognise themselves in the mirror and mourn when their loved ones die. All these behavioural characteristics point to an understanding of ‘self’, life, death and bereavement. An understanding of such complex concepts demands elephants be classified as ‘moral and legal persons’.”

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