Wild life under threat
By: K S S Pillai
Nature lovers are worried at the alarming rate at which many animal species disappear from the earth. The increasing human population has resulted in large-scale encroachment upon the forest land, reducing the natural habitat of wildlife.
Some people have started cultivating the land with electrified fences around them, sometimes using high voltage, killing or maiming a large number of animals. The cases of farmers poisoning intruding animals are on the rise. Another danger to wildlife is that poachers kill them for their tusks, skins, and other body parts. Acts enacted to protect wildlife and national parks seem to be insufficient.
Elephants are one of the species facing this problem. Recently, the media were full of reports of a tusker endangering the lives and farms of people living nearby. After a few days, it was seen crossing the state boundary, bringing mayhem there. The authorities had no option but to order its killing or tranquillising it before bringing it to a taming centre. Some people even came to the defence of the animal, demanding humane treatment of it.
Social media often show photographs of groups of elephants, including mothers with their babies, crossing busy roads and vehicles waiting cautiously at a distance. They defend their babies and other members when attacked by other wild animals.
Temples take pride in possessing tuskers for their temple ceremonies. They are used to carry images of the presiding deities on their back. The decorated elephants are also used in processions at festivals. There are also many elephants for hire to participate in such ceremonies.
Despite laws against cruelty to animals, many such animals are made to walk long distances through hot, tarred roads. They are forced to stand for hours with other elephants and deafening sounds around them without proper food or water. Sometimes, they become ‘mad’ and fatally attack the mahouts and those nearby, in addition to attacking vehicles and buildings.
Elephants are shown as loving, non-violent creatures in films. Prominent people, including political leaders, are often seen being blessed by elephants by touching their heads with their trunks. People offer fruits and other eatables to the elephants. Sometimes they take part in games like football or running competitions. They bend down or offer their legs for people to climb or get down from their backs.
Elephants have been a part of human life in India for long. Owning an elephant was a status symbol. I remember an elephant owned by an affluent family in my village. Two mahouts looked after it. Some villagers would offer it the green leaves of coconut trees to eat. It had a peculiar smell, and we, the children, liked it.
Some afternoons, the elephant was taken to the nearby Pamba River for bathing. It would lie in the water to enable the mahouts to brush it clean with smooth pieces of stone. When one side was over, it would lie on the other side. After the bath, it would walk slowly to its shed.
The elephant would disappear from the village often for long periods. We were told that it was taken to the forest to carry the trunks of felled trees from place to place. That was the only earning the owners got from the elephant.
There was a training centre at Konni for the elephants caught from the wild. Some trained elephants and mahouts would train the newly caught elephants. It was a cruel and slow process. The elephants would be auctioned to new owners when they were fully trained.
One additional source of income for the mahouts was the hair on the elephant’s tail. It is believed by people in many countries that if one wears an ornament like a ring, bracelet or earrings made using elephant’s hair, he or she will be blessed with love, health and prosperity. It is also believed that the hair will bring them luck and protect them from illness. The mahouts sell the hair by plucking it from the root.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to ‘The Kashmir Vision’, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)