Why should elephants be held captive in the name of religion?

As a kid, I remember seeing the mighty majestic animal, the elephant in the temples of Kerala. I thrust a one rupee coin in its tusk and waited with bated breath until it blessed me by placing its tusk on my head. I was thrilled. I loved the animal so much. As I was growing up, I visited many temples in Kerala. I have seen many elephants, decorated beautifully. Couple of years back at my grandfather’s village, I saw half a dozen elephants lined up. There were sounds of drum, a usual scene in kerala temples. The festivities were happening in full swing. And no festival in Kerala is complete without elephants and drum sounds.

As my interest in wildlife grew, I witnessed this lovely animal in many wildlife sanctuaries. There was a stark difference of course. There was silence all around me. The animals were quietly fanning themselves, and walking in groups, drinking water, splashing mud over their bodies. I realised I enjoyed this sight more than watching them in temples.

The feeling of watching an elephant in the wild is inexpressible.

Until, yesterday I did not know that elephants suffer when they are kept captive.  I had an opportunity to hear the talks of Dr. Shiela Rao from CUPA at the 2nd Annual animal welfare and conservation symposium held in coimbatore. CUPA works on saving the captive elephants. I heard some appalling facts. Captive elephants in temples are not treated well. Though Kerala might seem like an animal loving state, where is the love when animals are treated badly in temples. That’s one. In states across India, this animal in captivity is taken around on the road in hot sun without water. How cruel is that? Next time when you are in Kerala and you see an elephant, please look at the chains and how they are tied. I am sure, you have little bit of empathy towards living beings, you would have tears in your eyes.

We talk about human rights and animal rights. Do we really care about this animal whom we worship as Lord Ganesha. In the name of religion, we are committing atrocities towards these animals.

Fact 1: Elephants love silence. They do. They hate sounds. Can you imagine how they survive in temples? You never know when they might get agitated. Elephants are one among the unpredictable animals. As noise haters, they could get aggravated at any point. There have been many cases of mahout deaths.

Once, a mahout repeatedly was beating the elephant to make him do a task. After umpteen times, the elephant reacted. Pulled the mahout’s legs and flung it. That was it. Is it not fair that these animals are left in their own space or freedom than keeping them in temples and ill treating them.

Fact 2: You see elephants shaking their head. It is not fun. When it becomes stereotypical, it is a sign of stress for animals. This is not particular to elephants, but to any animal. Animals do go through psychological depressions and these are signs.

Fact 3: Elephants do not breed in captivity. No they absolutely do not. Given such horrendous conditions, can they?

Fact 4: Elephants cannot bear heat. If you walk down to forests in summer afternoons, you will find them probably under a thick tree fanning themselves. There are no sweat glands present in the animal, hence they cannot withstand heat. You will never find them in the sun, but imagine in the roads of Rajasthan, these animals are made to walk for miles in the sun without water? Think about it!

A baby elephant was once reaching the gate of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and natural history. The mother elephant was pushing the baby elephant to walk further to drink water. The baby walked and suddenly collapsed and died, right near the water tank kept for these animals to drink water. On post portem it was found that, the baby had human parasites in its body-the clear reason for its death. We keep dirtying places, throwing trash and when these animals feed on them, this is what happens?

For a change, how about humans being put in a cage, and these elephants chaining them without food or water? Will they survive? No. We consider ourselves superior. But think about it, animals and insects have been living in this planet for crores of years and humans..approximately 5 lakh years and we dominate them?  Like Salim Ali said, the day when the birds are gone, there will be no humans left to survive and even if humans are trashed out of this planet, birds and animals and worms will still exist.

Next time, I don’t even think I would want to see an elephant in a temple. I would shudder to watch my animal being tormented. In the name of religion, we are torturing animals when even our great scriptures like Mahabharata tells us to protect nature.

People, wake up!

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