Abused Elephants Tasted Freedom, Then a Court Put Them in Chains

A court order said their new facility violated guidelines on captive elephants, so they were put back in chains.

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Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj
Cameraperson, Producer:
Smitha TK

Three elephants, Sandhya, Indu and Jayanthi were handed over by the Kanchi Mutt to the founders of Tree Foundation in 2016, to provide them a happy home closer to their natural habitat. Along with a team of animal lovers, Supraja set up a chain-free facility at Marakkanam, in Kurumbaram village, Villupuram, Tamil Nadu.

Their happy stint was cut short in three-and-a-half years after a court order ruled that a ‘chain-free’ facility was in clear violation of the Captive Elephants’ Guidelines and so they were ordered to be relocated to a rehab camp in Trichy, Tamil Nadu.

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After Years of Abuse, The Elephants Found a Family

When the three elephants had arrived at the camp, they had multiple abscesses on either side of their bodies and foot sores because of lying down or walking on granite. The caretakers said that more than the physical hurt, it was the trauma that was difficult to overcome.

For over one and a half years, the oldest elephant Sandhya, refused to even lie down to sleep and didn’t cooperate with the treatment. After 30 years of captivity, it was difficult for her to believe this was a home where she had no chores to do.

Jayanthi, 21 years old, patiently shows her foot to check the sores while adorable gobbling all the treats.
Jayanthi, 21 years old, patiently shows her foot to check the sores while adorable gobbling all the treats.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
“Sandhya would try to come out to play and then remember something is wrong. She would withdraw and just stand still. So it was very difficult for her to believe that she had all the place on earth- no beatings, no getting work done, getting food in time. I think it took her a year and a half to sink in that she has her freedom.”
Abdul Saeef, Infrastructure Head, EleFriends101

As for the youngest elephant, Jayanthi, she had been taken away from her mother at the tender age of three and then been used for temple activities. Since she came to the camp, she has adopted the older elephants as her guardians and has been reliving her childhood by splashing about in the mud pool or blackmailing the mahouts for treats.

  • Jayanthi was making up for the lost childhood by running around in the open space and taking a dip in the mud pool.
  • Ramesh, an engineer by profession, has dedicated his life to living with these elephants and he is their favourite. 
  • Their daily routine would start with a round of barley and a nice long walk in the coconut grove.
  • The elephants had finally settled down in the beautiful forest area, close to the habitat, only to be removed and put in chains again.

Once Free, Only to Be in Chains Again

The Madras High Court on 19 September 2019 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.

Within a week, on 27 September, forest officials reached the centre and used brute force on these three elephants to load them on to the trucks, despite caretakers requesting a week's time to train the elephants for the move.

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 confirmed he was indeed locked up.

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

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