Private elephant owners across the country have appealed for government intervention, to help maintain their elephants, as the coronavirus pandemic has crippled their sources of income.
The Quint spoke to elephant owners in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa, who said that they are afraid they will exhaust all their savings very soon and have no hope of things returning to normalcy for at least four months.
Animal activists are also urging the various state administrations to provide fodder at a discounted rate and facilitate movement of trucks, so that the animals are not starved and denied medication.
Crowdfunding to Aid Owners, Mahouts
Rengan is a farmer and his son Haresh runs a polymer business. They own 40-year-old Lakshmi and 42-year-old Kusma, jumbo elephants who have been a part of their family for over four generations.
“We have to arrange for fodder worth Rs 13,000 from Virudhunagar every week, to get corn leaves. And this is on debt, which we would need to repay once our income starts coming in,” said Rengan.
“Even with such a setup, we are only figuring out how to manage everything but what about smaller owners? The mahouts have to also feed themselves and their families right? For the people who are providing fodder and transportation, the mahouts... it is an economic downfall for an entire community.”Haresh R, Owner, Elephant Heritage Project, Madurai
They have now started a crowdfunding project to raise money to support all private elephant owners during this coronavirus pandemic.
The Quint contacted several private elephant owners who claimed that the elephants were being adequately fed. However, they were worried about how they will sustain if the lockdown continues and no measures are introduced by the government.
Tamil Nadu elephant owners have appealed to the state to follow the Kerala model, as the Pinarayi Vijayan government has allotted five crore for buying food for captive elephants.
‘Took 10 Days to Get a Travel Permit:’ Goan Elephant Owner
Meanwhile, director of Goa Ecotourism Joseph Baretto narrated the ordeal of how it took him 10 days to obtain a travel permit from the administration. He owns a rest house in Kulem and has six elephants in his farm, including one six-month-old elephant calf.
“We immediately applied for a permit, on the night of 24 March – when the lockdown was announced – to the prime minister and other departments. I even sent hard copies. No response for two days. Then, I got a call from the CM’s office who directed the collector to issue orders,” he told The Quint.
Baretto said the mamlatdar, deputy collector, directorate of animal husbandry and veterinary services (AHVS) kept passing the buck. It was after a post on Facebook and after a few media reports, that he finally received his permit.
He said that with Rs 4,000 needed for an elephant per day, and with a lean workforce, it has become quite a task to manage everyday affairs.
“I never used my elephants for commercial purposes. Not used for rides or anything. This was only eco tourism. This is a jungle camp, which is near a wildlife sanctuary. All sources of income have stopped now, and expenditures have doubled because the prime minister told (the labour staff), ‘Don’t work but owners have to pay you.’”Joseph Baretto, Director, Goa Ecotourism
His appeal to the government :
“I wrote to the government that I’ve been paying taxes for 30 years, so give me a portion of it. Or maintain these animals.”Joseph Baretto, Director, Goa Ecotourism
Need for Rehabs to Take Care of Elephants
Alok Hisarwala Gupta, who manages the elephants’ rights campaign of the Federation of the Indian Animal Protection Organisation, told The Quint that owners of 96 elephants in the Ajmer fort in Jaipur, which were used for rides for tourists, had recently appealed to the forest department for aid.
The department is now providing Rs 18,000 per elephant for their upkeep. But an activist said that the amount covers the expenses for hardly two weeks. And dearth of money would push many to starve the animals and not give right medical care.
He pointed out that the primary problem is that, “Many elephant owners are not caretakers, but are acquiring them only for earning a business.”
Nari Shakti awardee Suparna Ganguly explained how this pandemic has thrown light upon how captive elephants have been abused and used for earning.
“I propose to the government to ban the captivity of elephants. Private owners should take care of the animals irrespective of whether the animal is able to earn or not and thorough inspections of health and welfare of the elephants must be conducted by private experts. The forest department needs to set up rehab centres to take care of animals that were abandoned or badly care for.”Suparna Ganguly, Co-Founder, Compassion Unlimited Plus Action CUPA