Heart-rending Indian street elephants - 01

street elephant, demanding alms, India. www.alamy.com

A couple of  days ago I saw an interesting  photo in 'The Hindu' news paper dated 20 September 2016. The sad sight of a huge elephant, crisscrossing the busy  bazaar street sticking out his long trunk to get a few bucks from the uncomfortable shop owners  is quite painful. It may be fun for the onlookers, but not for the huge animal that undergoes suffering stoically being away from his natural habitat - a vast lush green open range. I believe as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the incidences of elephants begging on the  urban streets have come down drastically.

For centuries domesticated, well-trained elephants have been used by man to do various difficult tasks, involving transportation of logs of wood in lumber industries, construction work, certain work related to military. In the bygone era they were used as war elephants by the rulers and  were trained to attack enemy lines and to transport heavy equipment,  cannons, etc. During the Raj, jumbos were widely used by the British higher-ups and the Indian Maharajahs whenever they went hunting (Shikar) in the dark jungles of India.  For the English sahibs, doing Shikar  on an elephant's back is much  safer  to  go  after  ferocious animals. Elephants are known for their intelligence and extraordinary strength. Not withstanding their size, if well-trained, they are obedient and loyal to their mahouts. Hence, people love elephants very much. When they die, people do prayers and bury them reverentially in a secluded  place away from stray dogs and foxes.
Indian elephant, a few bucks from tthe car occupants? epaper.timesofindia.com
Elephants carry a special tag: a “Keystone Species”, meaning that other animals and plants are dependent on them for survival.They are key players in their environment - from footprints forming water pools to creating pathways, they’re essential. In a way, they are a sort of trail-blazers in the wooded areas which will be useful for other animals to follow their trail.

In countries like India and Thailand, their work opportunities have declined with more mechanization in lumber industries, etc and for the elephant owners, a jumbo is more a liability than an asset. They have to spend a bundle daily on their food requirements. Though private ownership of elephants is allowed by the  Indian government, it is said that the begging elephants that on the move from place to place are not protected under  the Wildlife Protection Act (Amendment) of 2002. Indian elephants come under the endangered category of animals as poaching in remote places continues even today.

Once in a while we are accustomed to seeing elephants begging on the streets in some urban semi-urban areas. It is  a sad sight to see a majestic, but weary-looking jumbo taking orders from a man and begging alms for his big belly and to fill up his master's (Mahout) wallet.

The street elephants are those that are forced to beg in urban and semi urban spaces quite unsuitable for their survival. Madding crowd, din and dust in a cramped space will certainly tire the animal.  Though it is illegal in India, the police do not take action against the mahouts because of involvement of divinity and obviously they keep their eyes closed.

In India elephants are closely associated with temple festivals, etc. Among the Indian states, Kerala temples - most of them own an elephant or more than one. A good example is the Gruvayoor Sri Krishna temple that maintains a herd of elephants, mostly donated by the devotees!! Caparisoned elephants are  common features in the festivals of Kerala at famous temples.

In this country, it is only the privately owned  elephants are occasionally found begging for the livelihood of  the mahouts  who are hard pressed for money to maintain their family and the elephant. As for the temple elephants, they get enough food and the mahout is fairly well taken care of. Many of the urban and semi urban people do not understand the underling hardships and pain the animals face in the urban space.

The elephants, being large in size  prefer natural habitat with water holes, good vegetation, etc  where they have vast space to move about .They are not designed for the urban jungle where they don't feel comfortable. They are in captivity in an unnatural place far away from their  vast natural open  range. At stake here are the animals' physical and mental health and free mobility. They also face scores of other problems as well

All these things mentioned above violate  both the Wildlife Protection Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 196

The government ought to do something about these street begging elephants by taking them back to their natural habitats, far away from the human settlements.