Thursday, April 12, 2007

elephants begging in mumbai

if camels r barred from the city,pony rides are restricted why is the mighty elephant begging on the streets of mumbai .


kavita said...

The plight of elephants forced to live and work in urban areas is truly pitiable indeed.

I can commisserate with the ordeal you have undergone. But has the entire issue been resolved? Even with you determinedly following up with authorities; has it yielded the desired results?

Having a handful of citizens sensitive to the cause of these mighty animals is surely not enough; as has been proved by your experience. It needs the sincere execution of the "law"; in letter and spirit, if the plight of these poor beasts are to be . It is a cruelty that defies understanding.

Elephants have been highly praised and nationally proclaimed throughout history, but very little has been done to protect them. The threats against the elephants come only from human exploitation.

Direct threats like poaching for ivory and elephant calves, and illegal logging or roaming the city streets for money and indirect threats involving mismanagement and shortsighted policies, such as deforestation for agriculture, industrial plantations, dams or road constructions and commercialization of the forest reserve areas.

It is not enough that the elephant death rate is exceeding the birth rate. The insatiable demand for ivory, which started more than 20,000 years ago, has resulted in the elephant becoming a major target for hunters.

Combined with growing lack of habitat, due to agriculture, deforestation and increasing population, the elephant has little hope of a future.

Until the government enacts and enforces strong laws to protect our dwindling national treasure, trafficking in elephants will continue. The trade in calves is particularly insidious as babies are taken at too early an age, because they are "cute." Many do not survive, and those who do are so traumatized they may never lead normal lives.

Elephants are listed as Protected Animals under the Conservation Act 1992. But, considering the present situation, they should now be listed as endangered.

The exotic sight of an elephant in a city environment is beguiling to people and they are often ready to spend a few rupees to interact with them. However, most of them are completely unaware of the depths of the suffering of these unfortunate animals. These aspects do need to be highlighted in the media in a creative way to get the message aross.

Street elephants are particularly common in cities across India. The mahouts work the streets for money, but behind this simple problem there are a number of far more complicated factors.

Altho’ domesticated elephants have been used for work in Asian societies for thousands of years for logging, building and transportation; in the modern world, the elephant’s strength and intelligence has been made obsolete by machines.

The elephant’s owners, often small rural families, have seen their animals go from being net wage earners to being a huge drain on their finances. That is why many traditional mahouts see no option other than to take their elephants to the city to earn an income.

There are also richer and more unscrupulous criminal elements who have been buying up high numbers of elephants and renting them out to people who will take them into the cities. They are using the suffering of these mighty animals to line their pockets.

The horrific practice of using baby elephants to generate income is occurring frequently these days as "business" men ply their trade of trafficking in elephants. Nursing baby elephants are taken from their mothers and forced into street begging to satisfy the uncaring greed of these men.

The prices being asked for young elephants are more than outrageous, there may be as many as five or six men waiting to get a "cut" of the profits.

Elephants, as a species, are not designed for the urban jungle. And street elephants suffer in the most appalling ways as compared to " temple " elephants who are pampered and revered.

Most street elephants start work at about 4 pm when they begin walking from their hideouts on wasteland to the main district areas. At this time of day, it is still very hot on the roads and the pavements burn the soles of elephant’s feet. Their feet are designed for walking in jungle and grassland, not burning concrete.

There is also danger of rubbish. Many elephants live on wasteland that is littered with broken bottles, rusty cans and other hazards. Often they cut their feet and this leads to infection, blood poisoning and even death.

Often there is no shade for the elephants and they are left unprotected from the ravages of the sun. We can see the most horrendous sunburn on street elephants who are in absolute agony as the skin peels from their backs.

They usually also have inadequate water supplies. They have to rely on their mahouts to bring them water in buckets. This is however hard, arduous work and only the most dedicated mahout will bring the 60 gallons a day that the elephant needs.

Gastric and Respiratory Problems are also very common in city elephants. Elephants have sensitive stomachs yet most of the diet of a street elephant is contaminated by pollution, pesticides or both. Similarly the air the elephants breathe is choked by pollution and exhaust fumes.

For an animal designed to live in a natural environment, the ravages of pollution can play havoc with the elephant’s respiration.

Drinking polluted water also causes elephants gastric problems for the elephants.

Motor vehicles are another major danger. A traffic accident can leave a street walking elephant crippled for life. There are also many other hazards in the city that can cause elephants to have accidents when they are out of a familiar environment. Many street elephants are hit by vehicles all the time.

Elephants suffering from any of these problems are unlikely to be the most cooperative of animals when it comes to performing tricks and meeting the general public.

Disorientated by a myriad of health problems and forced into the noisy entertainment areas with booming music and confusing neon lights, the elephants can be difficult to control. To keep them in line, the mahouts are often brutal with their discipline and many elephants endure shocking physical abuse with the ankush.

The animals also suffer from extreme fatigue and to combat the tiredness it is commonplace for mahouts to drug the elephants with amphetamines to keep them on the move. Many street elephants have cloudy, dead eyes which is a classic symptom of drugging.

Altho’ it is illegal for elephants to be living in urban areas and the government tries to enforce the law; but it is very difficult. The mahouts hide their elephants and constantly move them to different areas of the city. However, even when elephants are located there are great difficulties. The average city police officer has no idea how to deal with a four ton elephant and often it is easier for law enforcement to turn a blind eye to the problem. Occasionally the government bring in experienced mahouts and purge the city but it is only a matter of time before the elephants are sneaked back in and are on the streets again.

To be truly effective, any solution must be holistic and comprehensive rather than relying on occasional purges and ad hoc involvement. Firstly an alternative means of earning a living must be made available to the elephants and their keepers. Whether it is working in the tourist business or with the forestry commission patrols, there must be an incentive for the mahouts to remove their elephants from the streets.

This should be coupled with a corresponding increase in the severity of the penalties for taking elephants back into urban areas. Currently the fines for an elephant in the city are laughably small and can be made back with a few hours of begging. This needs to be dramatically increased. The refusal to pay fines should lead to the forfeiture of the elephant.

Thirdly, enforcement should be dramatically improved. Specialist elephant teams should be set up in cities with an elephant problem and they should be given the resources necessary to carry out the job effectively. Potentially they could operate in tandem with NGO’s who could provide the elephant handling skills.

Only the adoption of some strong and severe measures for dealing with the problem will see the rehabilitation of the street elephants. However it requires real commitment on behalf of the city government and other authorities to see them implemented.

The Government along with the animal welfare and environmental NGOs should form a National Committee with full authority to collaborate with any other agency or institution to formulate effective measures to protect the elephant.

These measures, embedded in practical plans, should be delivered for approval and enforcement on a national scale. Any outdated legislation should be amended, and new regulations necessary for implementing the plans should be adopted.


1)Put all wild elephants on the endangered species list rather than just consider them a protected species. This will empower related authorities to prevent the commercial exploitation of elephant parts.

2)Prohibit all products made out of elephant parts, including ivory, skin, bone and all organs from both live and dead elephants regardless of elephant origin and the cause of death. This is to prevent fraudulent claims that parts are derived from domesticated elephants in and outside of the country. It is impossible to tell the difference between ivory derived from a wild elephant and a domesticated one.

3)Totally reform domesticated elephant registration from birth to death, with accurate identification - microchip plus DNA recording - to prevent registration fraud, especially with elephant calves. The conspicuous increase in domesticated elephants suggests there could be a number of wild elephant calves being posed as domestically born. For every fraudulent calf, there could have been as many as four foster mothers killed.

4)Declare all remaining forest land reserve forest and prohibit any unsustainable use of forest resources. Restrict further development in forest land. Any project that would effect the ecosystem must be prevented or revoked. There must exist the resolve to stop giving in to financial interests, local or national, when conservation is at risk.

5)6)Educate local populations about elephant conservation, the problems involved and the related laws. Wild elephants are sometime killed by villagers seeking valuable forest products or by plantation farmers on former elephant feeding grounds.

7)Strengthen law enforcement and forest rangers with authority to investigate conservation related cases and suppress crimes involving forest resources.
Laws and regulations involving domesticated elephants are ineffective and outdated. The elephant identification paper is just as ineffective. No personal description is included, and no positive ID can be made. The time required to report a new born elephant used to be eight years and was recently changed to three. Ideally, it should be as early as possible after birth.
Transfers by purchase of domesticated elephants cause these smart and sentimental animals’ considerable stress and difficulty in adjusting from one new owner to the next. Many mahouts riding the elephants are neither the original or real owners - just keepers. These keepers have no emotional ties to the elephants, tend to mistreat the animals and cannot control them during an emergency. This sometime results in tragedy, e.g. when an elephant is in musth or becomes enraged.
Improper handling and employment such as abusive training, excessive use of force for punishment, use of drugs, lack of proper care, animal exploitation, illegal logging, wandering the streets for money, etc. lead to many animal welfare problems and sometimes threaten public safety.
1) Elephant trainers still believe in excessive force like tight cuffs on all four legs to discipline young calves and the use of a spike hammer for punishment.
2) Elephants are ordered to stand on two front legs or on a small box to entertain locals. These elephants will likely have bone disorders when older. When not performing, elephants are confined in short chains for the rest of the day. This results in long term neurotic behaviour, observable when an elephant sways its head side to side all the time like it's dancing.
3) Baby elephants are forced to perform on the street for money. Most of them are separated from their mothers and fed with beer and amphetamines for the entertainment of tourists. More and more baby elephants are now found roaming the city streets. Some of these could have been smuggled in from the wild. If so, it means that as many as four adult females (foster mothers) may have been killed in the process.
4) Elephants engaged in illegal logging are often drugged with amphetamines to enable them to work long hours. Many elephants are crippled for life or die. Once an elephant is crippled, it is of no use to the owner and likely to be killed for its meat.
5) Most elephant resorts pay little or no attention to animal welfare. Elephants have to work long hours with not enough to eat or time to rest. House vets are virtually unheard of. Medical attention is given only when the animal is already sick.
6) Other incidents involving mistreated elephants and threats to public safety include elephants going on the rampage in the city, attacks on owners and villagers, traffic accidents, etc. Elephants drowning in city swamps or getting hit by cars have become common news items.
In the meantime, the public who encounter street elephants should also refrain from handing money to the mahouts. Of course the natural reaction on being confronted by a street elephant is to feed them. However these well intentioned actions merely serve to perpetuate the problem.
Elephant welfare is seriously threatened by claims of poverty and starvation. The mahout's poor economic status and the threat of elephants starving are always used to get public sympathy. This has created a vacuum in solving the problems. Authorities and animals activists consider the issue to be highly sensitive and hesitate to act. Some activists end up protecting business interests instead of animal welfare.

Krish said...

A lot of great ideas from Kavita. The one that struck me the most was to have a holistic solution rather than taking adhoc measures. And Kavita sure seems to have thought through a lot of what needs to be done.

How do we take this forward?

Girish said...
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Girish said...

Sadly, while Man has evolved into a creature of higher intelligence, he has also mastered the wiles of exploiting all ‘lesser’ creatures (including the more helpless ones of his own species). The exploitation of the elephant is only a more visible form of this perversion – because the elephant is a relative rarity in the city environment, we tend to notice this exploitation and get affected by it. We are relatively inured to seeing beggary, poverty, squalor, degradation and deprivation – because it is so ubiquitous, especially in a city like Mumbai. The issue, therefore, is much larger than the elephantine one we are discussing.

Let me explain what I mean. Have we not seen chickens being transported into our city in claustrophobic mesh jails and then yanked out and strung upside down four or even six in a bunch? Have we not seen the horrendous deaths they are put to by the chicken vendor? Nevertheless, does that make us write an ode to the hapless chicken? Or do we see animal activists take up cudgels for the fowl acts of humans? Come to think of it, what percentage of animal-rights activists are pure vegetarians? And, is there something called a selective animal lover, who can feel from the heart for the plight of one creature but relish a meat dish the same evening with a glass of wine, with nary a thought for the violence that has preceded the preparation of the same dish?

The argument does exist that we must do what we can, in the limited manner that we can, for the select occasions that move us and stir our conscience. I believe there is merit in this and that one must indeed follow one’s heart in espousing animal-rights causes – after all, if one can help one of God’s creatures which is in distress, it does count for something. Am I right? After all, an elephant does outweigh a chicken... and we don't eat elephants... yet!

Girish said...
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