The Hidden Plight of the Temple Elephants [video]

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I have been to India several times. One memory I always carry with me is of temple elephants. India (as well as other Eastern countries) have temples that “care” for one or more temple elephants. I use the word “care” loosely. Many would find it ironic to learn that temples who are supposed to worship these sentient beings and take proper care of their animal(s) do the exact opposite.

This video of Sunder was recorded undercover. Celebrities like Sir Paul McCartney tried to help Sunder get to a sanctuary, however, all the ‘red tape’ involved has caused issues. On a positive note, social media has brought attention Sunder’s plight and put pressure on the Indian government to do something. Hopefully, he will get to a sanctuary soon. This video is disturbing, however, necessary to view so one can understand what is really happening. You don’t have to agree with PETA on any level to see this is a very inhumane situation.

Not all temple elephants are treated badly. Mayapur Elephants strive to establish and promote a more humane treatment of temple elephants. Although, temple elephants are common in India, the sad truth is that far too often their needs are not being met, or worse, that they are subjected to cruel training methods and excessive forced labor conditions. By inviting the outside public to be involved in developing and supporting their program, Mayapur Elephants hope to lead by positive example. To be more specific, they hope to motivate other temples to adopt their policies and practices, thereby improving the lives of these sentient animals. I was so impressed to learn (first hand) that the donations they receive are uses SOLELY for the purpose of funding their elephant program which includes costs associated with veterinary care, food, mahout, and other costs directly related to providing the highest level of care for their two temple elephants: Laksmipriya and Bishnupriya. Helga Illo who started Mayapur Elephants has worked hard to make sure her temple elephants are taken care of properly. Check out this video to see their bond. Hopefully, more temples will take the lead of Mayapur Elephants!

Lakshmipriya and Bishnupriya enjoying their day

Lakshmipriya and Bishnupriya enjoying their day

Then, there is the issue of elephants being used in religeous ceremonies. Asian cultures admire the high intelligence and good memory of elephants that symbolize wisdom and royal power. And although Asian Elephants have been elevated to the status of India’s heritage animal, and considered by many Hindus as the embodiment of Lord Ganesh, they are being subjected to gross neglect and exploited for human entertainment and financial gain. Brokers and owners pocket a lot of money buying and selling elephants.

During the festivities the elephants are forced to stand motionless for 10-12 hours and tolerate the scorching heat, temperatures hover in 104- 122 degrees range. Does this sound humane to you? On top of this, there is no physical exercise either for these elephants that would otherwise be grazing the lush jungles. As of right now, there are no guidelines on the type of training tactics the mahouts (trainers) use to control the elephants or make them them perform amid the chaos of the festival. If you look at the festivals in detail, you will see the heavy chains tied to the elephant’s feet and around their body. I would say this is their ‘training tactic’, it’s not a very humane one.

Kerala, India is known to have elaborate religeous festivals involving elephants dressed in ornate and heavy dressing. What many do not know is that Musth Bull Elephants (Male) are used and tortured during festivities in Kerala, India. In the Asian species of elephants, only males have tusks. They are even called “tuskers” in India. Of the more than 3,000 captive elephants in that nation, over 21% (at least 700 of them) predominantly bulls, are in the southern State of Kerala, India.

Kerala’s festivities kick off between December and May, exactly when mature bulls undergo an annual cycle called Musth – their peak sexual arousal period. This is key to understanding the pain and suffering of Kerala’s captive elephants.

Look Closely. Does this look humane to you?

Look Closely. Does this look humane to you?

During Musth, the bulls forage extensively in the wild and build their fat and energy reserves, as their testosterone levels surge by 60-100 times more than normal. These factors increase their sex drive, making them dominant and aggressive. However in captivity Musth bulls are isolated and tethered 24/7 in a tiny space mostly to a tree or pole, allowing only the handlers to feed and care for them. Unable to expend their energies these bulls become violent and attack their handler, inflicting themselves with injuries, and often they inevitably end up getting beaten and poked with long poles (with metal tips) and bull hooks, causing them pain and suffering. Not only are these bulls deprived of their basic drive to mate, but also punished for something natural and instinctual. Can you imagine that these amazing animals are not only being deprived, but also punished for the natural instinct to mate?

Sangita Iyer is a biologist and experienced documentary film maker who has worked in the media industry for over a decade. She is now putting her efforts into bringing light to the reality of the Indian festivals in Kerala, India. For the Love of Elephants is a feature-length documentary film in the making. It exposes and reveals the dark side of Kerala’s glamorous cultural festivities that exploit captive elephants for profit and the constant torture these supremely gentle and intelligent animals suffer. Check out her documentary, For the Love of Elephants and see how you can help make a difference, too.

Most people may think one person can’t make a difference in this world but I say this world needs the one person who thinks they can make a difference, then change can really happen.

Elephant family in the wild

Elephant family in the wild

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