Sudden Transfer, Use Of Bullhooks: Elephants at TN Camp Face Abuse
Forest officials forced three rescued elephants out of Marakkanam camp on Thursday after a HC order.
Reporter: Smitha TK
Video Editor: Varun Sharma
An alarming video of elephants being hit hard with bullhooks at Marakkanam, 150 kilometres from Chennai, has been accessed by The Quint. Three elephants, Sandhya, 45, Indu, 35, and Jayanthi, 21, were handed over by the Kanchi Mutt temple to Elefriends 101 for rehabilitation. For the last three and a half years, they had been living in a chain-free facility nestled inside a herbal forest, with nutritious food and veterinary care, until forest officials upset their recovery.
Following a Public Interest Litigation, the Madras High Court on 19 September ordered all the three elephants be moved to an elephant care facility at MR Palayam Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Trichy within four weeks.
However, just a week after the order was pronounced, forest officials reached the campus on Wednesday to forcibly take the elephants away. The caretakers requested that they give them a week’s time so that the elephants can be trained to get on to the trucks, without brute force. But the officials allegedly refused to budge, and resorted to hitting the youngest elephant, Jayanthi, with a bullhook. The efforts to transfer the elephants began on Thursday early morning.
When she refused to cooperate, the caretakers alleged that a JCB was used to push her into the lorry.
Violence and Brute Force Rattles the Camp
The caretakers at the campus alleged that ‘in a strangely high-handed manner’ the officials locked up the manager and the District Captive elephant welfare committee member, Kundhavi Devi, from Cuddalore in a room to avoid her being a witness to the activities taking place. When The Quint contacted IFS Rakesh Jagenia, he denied this claim. At the same time, we reached out to the centre manager who shared a picture of himself locked inside a room with a policeman on guard.
“The forest officials didn’t listen to us. They got mahouts from top-slip and they got the guy who put steel spokes around Sandhya long back... so she got very scared... her old torturer put her into the truck. Jayanthi refused to get into the truck, she was beaten so much and then they left her because it was getting too much,” said Kundhavi Devi.
“Indu was loaded first on the truck. We managed to get her to move a little into the truck but they used a lot of force to push her into it. You can hear those guys shouting. This morning they started using weapons like bullhooks,” she further added.
Kundhavi is accompanying Sandhya to Trichy and said that she, along with the centre manager, will stay with the elephants to calm them down.
‘Hit The Elephants but Did Not Harm Them,’ Allege Forest Officials
The forest officer denied the use of brute force. “We have called elephant men from Annamalai tiger reserve in Pollachi, who are very well experienced in handling elephants,” he said.
“See, we are trying to transfer the elephants. For them, it is a new thing to move into the lorry right? The elephants showed some kind of resistance. These people are well trained to try to move these elephants. With the sticks they just tried to move them...they hit the elephants as well, but that did not harm them.”IFS Rakesh Jagenia
The officer alleged that the centre had been operating without mahouts or kavadis, however, The Quint found records of payments and expenses of the mahouts on campus. The caretakers assured that 3 trained mahouts and 3 helpers have been taking care of the space under the guidance of the centre manager, Ramesh.
Slamming the court order, Supraja, the main caretaker of EleFriends 101 said, “Such an insensitive judgment without consideration for the welfare of the elephants who came out of trauma and were recovering. Don’t they consider elephants to have a heart of their own, and a personality?”
“We have tortured them for so many years and finally they forgave us and started living with us happily for the last 3 years. What was our fault? We were looking after them chain-free.”Supraja Dharini, Founder, Tree Foundation
Accusing the forest department of not granting them permission to operate, Supraja alleged, “They are giving permission to all commercial people, like Shekhar, Bhaskar, Sukumar, who are owners of private elephants and take them for poojas and marriages and those guys are keeping them in a small shed next to their house. Don’t follow any captive elephants guidelines... but our only fault as we were looking after the elephants very well.. gave the freedom to live happily.”
According to the Captive Elephants Guidelines, elephants have to be tied with a chain at least in one leg. “The judge said the elephants are huge animals, how can you keep them chain-free? So you have taken that order into your hands? We told that we do keep them in a high-beam facility but the judge was not willing to accept that,” she added.
Supraja, who also runs Tree Foundation, has worked for the welfare of Olive Ridley turtles, injured dogs and elephants. “We have been working with forest department for 17 years but they didn't consider any of that goodwill,” she added.
3 Years of Fighting Trauma in a Chain-Free Facility Turns Futile
This reporter had visited this camp a week back and witnessed a secure environment for the elephants. After serving the temple for decades, the Mutt made space for the rescued elephants to give them a chance at a regular, free life. When the three elephants had arrived at the camp, they had huge infections on either side of the body because of lying down on granite, they also had festering foot sores and were traumatised from having lived a captive life for years.
“The elephants which had adapted to a chain free lifestyle, positive reinforcement techniques and open spaces to roam around, are likely to be severely adversely affected by the sudden change in their daily routine and environment,” said the caretakers in a statement.
They stated that the owners of the elephants, the Kanchi Mutt, weren’t given any notice or intimation on the date of translocation of the elephants. “The Forest Department (FD) conducted a lightning strike without intimation to the Mattam and forcibly took away the cell phones of the manager and staff, warning that if any photos were taken, the staff would be arrested,” a statement from the caretakers read.
“The Govt Rescue Centre at MR Palayam Trichy has come into existence only about 3 weeks back, with very basic facilities. There neither have grazing areas nor water troughs. Further they will always be held with chains and not allowed to roam freely,” they alleged.
The rescued elephants will yet again be subjected to mental, emotional and physical trauma from the sudden translocation, the statement said.
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