The 35-year-old elephant Cheran, has been used in multiple operations to capture or drive away wild elephants, and had already lost sight in one eye; strict action will be taken say officials
A kumki elephant at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp, Cheran, was blinded by a kaavadi put in-charge of taking care of him, on June 17.
The elephant, aged around 35, has been used in multiple kumki operations to capture or drive away wild elephants in the Western Ghats landscape. It had already lost its sight in one eye, and was totally dependent on the vision from its left eye, officials said.
It has been alleged that the elephant was being given commands at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) when the injury occurred.
Activists have also alleged that the mahout who was in-charge of the elephant, Ravi, had informally handed over the responsibility of training the elephant to another person who was known to him and who was not on the Forest Department’s payroll. This claim was dismissed by the Field Director of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, K.K. Kaushal, who said that it was the kaavadi or assistant to the mahout that had inflicted the injury.
“The incident happened on June 17 and a report has been filed regarding the same. Disciplinary action has been initiated against the forest staff in question, and strict action will be taken,” said Mr. Kaushal.
It is unclear if the injury to the eye of the elephant has now rendered Cheran completely blind. “I will be conducting a thorough investigation at the camp, and veterinarians will also ascertain the severity of the injury and see if any course of treatment can be provided to restore eyesight to the animal,” said Mr. Kaushal.
The injury to Cheran has once again raised questions about the treatment of captive elephants in Theppakadu. In September of 2019, John, another captive elephant at the camp was videotaped being hit by mahouts in the camp, who were filmed throwing sticks and stones at the animal in a bid to control him. The Forest Department has consistently stated that the camp is one of the most humane elephant camps in the country, with elephants enjoying a much better quality of life at the camp than anywhere else.
One conservationist from the Nilgiris, requesting anonymity, said that to train and keep any elephant under control always requires some kind of force. “At the end of the day, elephants are wild animals, who can only be controlled and trained by the use of force, positive and negative reinforcements, to mould behavior. Kumkis especially, are treated very harshly to obey complex commands so that they can be used in operations by the Department. It is very important for people to remember that all captive elephants, in both elephant camps and in temples, are kept in check using at least some kind of force, and at times, the use of such force can lead to injuries. These are moral and philosophical questions which surround the keeping of elephants in captivity,” he said.
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