Elephant Torture Exposed in Kerala

An expose in the British newspaper the Daily Mail (more widely known for its right-wing attitude towards just about anything) which is one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK has published a dramatic and heart-rending journalistic piece on the way elephants are treated in Kerala. Whilst some Carolines may complain that this is just another example of patronising colonialism from the Brits, there are many in Kerala who have long recognised that we have a love hate relationship with elephants.

We are more than happy to be photographed beside them, we pat them and we say that we love them and yet what the piece reveals is the sheer cost to the elephant of being in captivity! We published a piece last week that looked at some of the data behind the wild and captive elephant populations in Kerala and we quoted researchers who are demanding that laws on the care of captive elephants be both more stringent and also be applied.

The past two months have seen two stories about Kerala and its attitudes towards animals gaining wide traction in social media: first, there was the claim that the Kerala government was planning to cull 200,000 wild dogs, now there is this long story about captive elephants.

The cull of dogs has not happened and may never happen. Certainly, there was widespread outrage and a campaign against Kerala. Arguably, the story about the elephants is far more damaging and it casts a very negative light on the temple at Guruvayoor which is home to so many elephants. In one particularly moving story, we discover an elephant that has been chained by front and back legs for 20 years. We discover young elephants been trained for a future life in captivity and been beaten into submission.

Some activists are confident that there will be no captive elephants in Kerala in 10 years time, but the only way to make sure that this happens is by refusing to partake in elephant interactions and by making your voice heard by signing petitions or writing to the Indian government.

Sadly, captive elephants cannot be returned to the wild as wild elephants refuse to accept them. These elephants can only be offered a humane environment in which to live and most importantly, the Kerala government and the Indian federal government must pass laws that protect these wonderful animals, and let’s not forget that this is the national animal of India, and ensure that when ever they are held in captivity they receive proper veterinary care, they are managed by people who have been trained to care for them and that they are no longer required to work in situations, such as Temple festivals which are both terrifying and dangerous for them.

The impact of these stories will be felt in the tourism sector where Kerala sells itself as God’s own country – but many visitor will be unconvinced that God treats his elephants like this. For many, it will especially shocking that a temple is involved and seems to treat its elephants with such barbarity and lack of care.

At KarmaKerala we will not offer elephant interactions where we cannot guarantee that the elephant is loved, cared for and looked after as these beautiful, amazing and remarkable animals deserve.

Rebuttals to the Daily Mail Article

Update: It should be pointed out that not everyone is convinced by the veracity of the story: see this website for a rebuttal (somewhat point-by-point) of the Daily Mail article – read here

also see Letter to the Daily Mail which specifically rebuts some of the charges made in the article and is very specific about some of the photos and also the camps in Bangalore and their purpose. It also reveals that the video in the article was not taken by the journalist at all.

Update2: On the same day, The Supreme Court has passed an order that requires the registration of all captive elephants in kerala.  The bench of justice Dipak Misra and justice R Bhanumathi said registration of the elephants would help in making accountable all acts of cruelty these animals are subjected to, and to fix responsibility. The Apex Court also asked the State’s Chief Wildlife Warden to have captive elephants in the State accounted for by using data already available with him for issuing ‘declaration of ownership’ certificates under Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

The bench also put the onus on festival managers, State and district committees, and private owners to ensure that the elephants were not treated with cruelty. The judges said in case of any violation the person responsible like the owner or the mahout will face criminal prosecution and the authorities will have the right to confiscate the elephant.


The Daily Mail article is here – read it with care and some scepticism about some of the charges levelled

See our previous article on Kerala Elephant Population – number of wild and captive elephants in Kerala and their treatment

Save the Asian Elephant Charity Website – sponsors of the Daily Mail journalist

Elephant Corridor in Wayanad – how wild elephants are being helped

See also this article from Kerala elephant expert asking for moderation from social media users – contains important ideas on how stakeholders need to be involved in reform

Article from Wall Street Journal Blog on captive elephants in India with some interesting concerns about the dearth of Mahouts with the skillset needed to manage elephants

ANCF website about the Indian Elephant programmes – details of surveys and strategies

Sholto Ramsay

Boss, motivator and general eccentric with a deep love of Kerala and India who just wants everyone to enjoy an amazing and life enhancing experience of Kerala.

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4 Responses

  1. EHIndia says:

    I am not sure about Liz, but whatever she has tried to convey is the truth. Am from Kerala and have been fighting against the use elephants in temples and festivals. The biggest perpetrators of crime against elephants are the temple authorities. The fact that all the abuse is taking place in the name of religion is the most disturbing aspect cos nowhere in Hindu religious texts have they mentioned to use elephants to serve gods. This custom of using elephants to serve gods seems to be limited to only Kerala cos elephants and festivals in Kerala are big business. Time has come to put an end to the use of temple elephants. In fact all captive elephants should be freed and sent to sanctuary.

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