Census on captive elephants

By Ravleen Kaur
Published: Saturday 15 December 2007

Counting the links in the chai a study on captive elephants has concluded in Karnataka. The first-of-its-kind study aims to take into account all aspects of management regimes and health care of captive elephants in India and create a database.

"Inventory of existing captive elephants will help us know the facilities they have in terms of health care, nutrition and training. We will then come up with a set of guidelines towards effective management of captive elephants," says Raman Sukumar, the founding trustee of Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ancf). ancf along with the Bangalore-based ngo Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (cupa), initiated the study.

After the study, a manual has been prepared in Karnataka. It contains body measurement, dung circumference and weight, details of space, water, bath, interaction, training, behaviour and veterinary doctor's availability for 158 captive elephants in the state along with their mahuts and their socio-economic status, Suparna Baksi Ganguly, vice president of cupa, said. "The social status of mahuts is very low. The government doesn't want to build infrastructure for them. We need to raise their standard of living so that they take interest in the animal," says Sukumar.

The three main aims of the project are to arrive at the total number of captive elephants in India, sample them to assess their status and management and then explore different models of elephant keeping and develop a concept to initiate care centres, says the cupa annual report.

The global population of elephants is 55,000, of which 15,000-16,000 are in captivity. "A cultural association has always existed in temples and festivities. For instance, it's a matter of prestige to own an elephant for the Namboodri community in Kerala," Sukumar said.

Activists say elephants should not be made a showpiece, but Sukumar says they can't be wished away as it is very difficult to put elephants back in the wild as there is just no habitat. "According to present regulations, somebody owning an elephant cannot sell it even if he can't take care of the animal. This is not realistic," he added.

The second phase of the project will study health assessment of all captive elephants to know the common diseases afflicting them. "Elephants are very social animals. In captivity, most of them are afflicted with stress, aggression and tuberculosis. We are thinking of designing guidelines for their health next," says Ganguly.

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