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Fall in captive elephant population in Kerala

The Hindu, New Delhi, 25th November 2013

With a ban on bringing in captive elephants from other States in force coupled with the Forest Department putting an end to issuing ownership certificates for elephants, the captive elephant population of the State has plunged from more than 750 three years ago to less that 500 now.


While this could be good news for animal rights activists, it is bad news for the remaining captive elephants. Those that remain will be forced to make up for the shortage. With more festivals getting elephant-oriented, the work load is only expected to increase.


As these elephants go short of sleep and tire of travelling, they will be under tremendous stress which can result in many elephants running amok during the coming season, said Chief Veterinary Officer (Kollam) B. Aravind who is a known captive elephant management expert.


The shortage has not only also pushed up the elephant hiring rates but also the profitability aspect of captive elephant rearing. This has resulted in the price tag of some of the acclaimed captive tuskers in the State soaring to more than Rs. 1.5 crore each.


The tuskers in their 30s are the ones in high demand. The hiring rate of these elephants is more than Rs. 1 lakh per day. These are elephants that bring in a minimum annual profit of Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 30 lakh each to the owner. If made to attend festivals without the mandatory rest which is not unusual, the profit figure doubles.


Karnan, a 36-year-old captive elephant based at Puthenkulam in Kollam district has already been offered a price of Rs.1.5 crore. But its owner V. Shaji told The Hindu that he is so attached to the animal that he cannot part with it. But it is no secret that several deals in that price range had taken place in the State during the past one year alone. Since transfer of ownership through sale remains banned, the purchase is an under-the-counter deal as a 90-year-lease agreement on a Rs.100 stamp paper. This happens because custodianship is permitted. As a result, many of those who keep elephants in the State are not the legal owners of that elephant.


Kerala is the State which employs the maximum number of captive elephants for festivals. Many tuskers taking part in religious festivals are even venerated. But the trouble for these animals is that the different festivals across the State happen during the same season.


Without rest they are made to walk or taken in trucks over long distances to attend the festivals and elephant parades. Since the rates are high, the organisers of such festivals insist on the presence of these animals at the venue for long durations.


With trapping of wild elephants for captive purpose already banned, the captive elephant breeding programme to augment its numbers has not met with much success because pairs need to be let loose for long to mate, he said.