Published: April 15, 2020 5:56:54 pm
Written by Nelvin Wilson
For owners of captive elephants in Kerala, the summer season months of March, April and May are typically a busy interval. This is the time when a lot of temples in the state observe their annual festivals that are thought-about ritualistically incomplete with out caparisoned elephants swaying to conventional percussion beats. However, the ongoing nationwide coronavirus lockdown, which simply obtained prolonged to May 3, has left elephant owners observing darkish days forward as all temples have suspended elaborate festivals and shut its doorways to the public.
“This year’s season began on January 21 and we had regular bookings till May. But we have lost all of that now. The next season would begin only in January next year. Till then, managing the elephant’s requirements is a mammoth task. We incur a daily cost of Rs. 4000 per elephant for food and other needs,” mentioned Sreejith, a local of Thrissur district who owns the elephant going by the identify of Guruji Sivaranayanan.
Sreejith’s elephant is an everyday alongside the extra well-liked, 80-year-old Thechikottukavu Ramachandran at the annual Thrissur Pooram festivities. This yr, the Thrissur Pooram, a melange of festivals of ten temples in and round the city of Thrissur scheduled to happen on May 2, has been referred to as off. This is the first time in dwelling reminiscence that an enormous occasion similar to the Pooram, which pulls in lakhs of individuals together with from international nations and sees the parading of 30 elephants at a time, has been lowered to rituals with out the participation of the public.
In Kerala, possession of domesticated elephants come underneath two classes: these owned by the devaswoms, or temple managements and people owned by personal people. Both the temple managements in addition to personal people hire out their pachyderms for festivals that vary from 5 to 10 days for sums that run into lakhs. The revenues they shore up from such festivals throughout the summer season months goes into caring for the animal’s meals and medical wants for the remainder of the yr. The taller the elephant and longer its tusks, the larger its demand goes. For many years, elephant owners and temple administration committees in Kerala have tapped into the common Malayali’s fascination for the elephant to attract bigger crowds. Every yr, incidents of unruly elephants creating chaos at such festivals are reported. But the public fascination for them has hardly ever dipped.
Now, with the lockdown including to the uncertainties of social and public life in the days forward, elephant owners like Sreejith are scrambling to cowl rising bills.
“To take care of my elephant, I have to spend at least Rs. 4000 per day including wages of the mahout. An elephant needs at least 20 sets of coconut fronds a day which costs about Rs. 2500. The fronds come from Palakkad. At the start of the lockdown, we had logistical difficulties in bringing the leaves. But now, we are able to source them,” he added.
Temple festivals throughout the summer season, says Sreejith, are so profitable that individuals with even postgraduate levels are thrilled to take up short-term stint in caring for the elephant throughout the season. For owners like him, a whole season can assist make a revenue of Rs 2-Three lakhs. But now, with all bookings cancelled, the image isn’t rosy anymore.
Oottoli Krishnan, who owns six elephants in Thrissur, chipped in, “I’m forced to borrow money to take care of the expenses right now. I have to incur a daily cost of Rs 25000 for my six elephants. Because of the lockdown, each of my elephants have missed an average of 50 festivals this season. It’s a very sensitive situation.”
The mahouts have been equally affected. Chirakkal Sreedharan, who owns three elephants, mentioned a mahout could make as a lot as Rs 4000 on the day of a temple festival. If there are two mahouts per elephant, they divide it amongst themselves.
Chandran Ramanthara, the Thrissur district president of the elephant owners federation, mentioned, “The government has to intervene immediately. 75 per cent of the elephant owners in the state are those who are unable to pay daily wages of their mahouts due to financial constraints. Since an entire season has been washed away, elephant owners have to wait for months to shore up revenues again.”
“Elephants for us are like our family members. When one of them falls ill, we take care of them, right? So right now, we’re managing expenses as much as we can. We have a duty to take care of them,” mentioned Mangalamkunnu Chettiar, an proprietor of 12 captive elephants together with a few of the well-known ones similar to Mangalamkunnu Ayyappan.
Apart from the monetary constraints, defending the elephants and their respective mahouts from potential Covid-19 an infection is one other fear plaguing their minds. When the owners realised that their elephants, tethered all day close to a public spot, are drawing folks, a state-wide affiliation of owners needed to put out a press release requesting folks to not come close to the animals. Recently, a tiger examined optimistic for coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo in New York, sparking fears about human-to-animal transmission, however to date, there has not been conclusive proof about such transmission in elephants.
Dr. PS Easa, an professional on conservation of asian elephants, mentioned it’s at all times good to take precautions as nobody predicted the transmission of the virus right into a tiger in the US.
“For example, elephants can get tuberculosis from human beings. So a possibility always exists. But so far, veterinarians have ruled it out. It’s important to be careful, especially the mahouts. They are the ones taking care of the elephants. They can be carriers, so their health is equally important,” he mentioned.
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