Large wounds on the back of the hind legs and almost no food in the trough in front. The sight of an elephant struggling to stand with the wounds on his leg, shifting his body weight from one leg onto the other, was captured by a member of the People's for Animals two weeks ago.
Pictures and videos of 20-year-old Neelakandan facing abject neglect at the Sree Dharma Sastha temple, at Sasthamkotta in Kollam made the Kerala High Court take a suo moto case. It was inside the premises of the temple administered by the Travancore Devaswom Board, that the PFA member captured visuals of the elephant in distress.
"The PFA member had gone there to feed an injured dog, and saw the elephant lifting his leg in pain, pleading for help. But since the visit was during night time, he could not understand the exact situation. Next morning he shot videos, from which we understood the real plight of the elephant," PFA member Sreedevi S Kartha told TNM.
Later PFA activists met Minister of Forests and Wildlife Protection K Raju to bring his attention to the issue. The Minister directed Chief Wild Life Warden PK Kesavan to take action. CWW in turn directed the Forest Range Officer Kollam to take action.
"All the injuries on Neelakantan were caused by torture by mahouts, they seem to have hit him with knives and sticks. His front left leg is also damaged, which makes his movements painful. If the wounds had been treated on time, he could have been cured," Sreedevi says.
Neelakantan's hind legs were tied because he was in musth, but he wasn't freed even after the musth period was over. (Musth is a frenzied state of male elephants once a year, during its mating season).
Activists fear that with two wounded legs tied up and one damaged, he is forced to balance his body weight on one leg most of the time. The deliberate starving they allege has lead to weight loss.
The case will come up for hearing in the High Court on Tuesday. PFA says that the Forest Department is the natural custodian of elephants, since it's a wild animal and in this case the elephant should be handed over to the Forest Department since the Devaswom Board has neglected the animal.
The PFA has demanded that the elephant be shifted to Kottur elephant sanctuary and provided with immediate treatment. They also want doctors from the speciality hospital in Delhi to diagnose Neelakandan's condition.
Thee PFA says that in 2015, a panel of five doctors- both from Devaswom Board and Forest Department had examined the elephant, and concluded that treating his wounds was going to be difficult. Though all male elephants are tied during musth, their injuries are treated afterwards. However in Neelakantan's case, he has allegedly been ignored for years, making his condition deteriorate.
"If the elephant is shifted to Kottur, it would be a good change for it. It will also have to be checked if it will be practical to shift the elephant to the hospital in Delhi. The Wild Life Warden has asked a committee of Forest veterinarians to look into the issue. Let us see what the court's order will say on Tuesday. Our next action will be based on that," says Latha Indira of PFA Thiruvanathapuram.