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Heart Breaking Stories Of Temple Elephants Of Kerala

01/20/2016 03:21 EST | Updated 01/20/2017 05:12 EST

The fate of an elephant named Thiruvambadi Ramabadhran hangs in the balance. His trunk is paralyzed. Unable to eat or drink he stands helplessly, as his handlers are engaged in their own chats.

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Ramabadhran's trunk is paralyzed
Photo Credit: Still shot Gods in Shackles documentary

To make matters worse, he has contracted infectious foot and skin diseases, and has been placed in solitary confinement. He is shackled day and night, forced to stand on his own urine and excrement, his foot rot worsening by the day and pus continuing to ooze from his body wounds.

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Thiruvambady Ramabadhran is suffering foot rot and infectious diseases
Photo Credit: Mr. Venkitachalam

According to one of my sources in Trissur, Ramabadhran has 11 wounds around his legs and 15 deep wounds all over his body, one of them spilling "buckets of pus." Surely, this intelligent animal must also be psychologically distressed by the physical and emotional pain.

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A massive tumor on Ramabadhran's left hip is oozing out puss
Photo Credit: Mr. Venkitachalam

Ramabadhran belongs to Thiruvambady Devaswom, a renowned temple in Trissur, Kerala. This temple owns five more elephants including a female called Lakshmi. She used to perform regular rituals. However, for almost a month now, she has been "on leave" according to one source.

As it turns out, Lakshmi is being forced to stand in one spot, shackled to a concrete pole day and night. She's not even allowed to lie on the ground.

Why? Because the temple officials "suspect" she's pregnant. And they don't want to take any chances. So they're depriving Lakshmi of her basic routine that allowed her at least some exercise, as she walked to the temple and around the shrine during her morning and evening rituals. In an email exchange with me, Mr. Venkitachalam, Heritage Animal Task Force (HATF) secretary said he's livid, adding,

"The most disturbing matter is that the mahout and the managers of Elephant Lakshmi are not allowing it to bend its knees or lie on the ground. i.e., this Elephant is forced to stand always on its four legs."

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This is Lakshmi in November 2015, getting ready for temple rituals
Photo Credit: Still shot from Gods in Shackles documentary

Even for an elephant that's not pregnant, standing in one spot is torturous. Walking is absolutely essential, so they can shift their massive bodies and balance the weight. If in fact Lakshmi is pregnant, she must be going through hell, as the extra weight of the baby must be burdensome on her legs, causing excruciating pain.

After receiving complaints from animal activists, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) directed top veterinarians of Kerala to conduct a spot check last week on all elephants owned by the Thiruvambadi temple. The report is expected to be released sometime this month.

According to one of my sources none of the veterinarians could confirm Lakshmi's pregnancy. He said, the only thing fueling speculations is a video filmed by a business man eight months ago that depicts one of his male elephants mounting Lakshmi several times during his annual musth cycle (when bull elephants are in heat). It is in this man's mansion that Lakshmi remains shackled day and night.

The core issue is, most of the elephants in Kerala are bulls. And Mr. Venkitachalam is mainly concerned that the state veterinarians have little knowledge and expertise in diagnosing pregnancies. Therefore, he has written an open letter to the State and Forest Ministers of Kerala, asking them to have experts from other states to intervene,

"We expect that your authoritative office will constitute a high level expert committee of veterinarians from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka who are well versed in diagnosing the pregnancy of captive Elephants of Forest Department of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states."

Back in November 2015 when I visited Lakshmi, her previous mahout, who was fired from the temple for torturing her to blindness, told me that she was pregnant. He also said that three years back when they tried to mate her with the same bull elephant she ran away. So this time around, they chained her next to him, literally forcing her to mate.

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Lakshmi was tortured to blindness because she was hungry and "stole" her mahout's food
Photo credit: Still shot from Gods in Shackles documentary

In the wild, female elephants determine which bull to mate with, based on its strength and dexterity. But in captivity, poor defenseless Lakshmi was forced to mate with a bull she had rejected a few years back. I'm lost for words trying to describe this kind of atrocity against a defenseless female elephant. It's no different than a woman being raped.

A day in the life of Lakshmi featured in Gods in Shackles documentary slated to be released in the spring, reveals her daily routine starting from 4:00 a.m. when she's readied to perform in morning rituals at the temple, followed by her afternoon and evening routines, her day ending at approximately 8:00 p.m. It's a 16 hour work day, seven days a week, with little rest in between.

The loving and gentle animal that Lakshmi is, she draws huge crowds. Even her mahouts receive special gifts because of their association with this gorgeous animal. And now, they are trying to exploit her to breed, despite the fact that Lakshmi doesn't have the experience to care for a baby.

In captivity, it's not unusual for female elephants to kill their babies after birthing them. A BBC report suggests,

"From an early age young females babysit the calves. This is known as allo-mothering. As a result they have a lot of experience and knowledge of calves before becoming mothers themselves, which stands them in good stead. When they do give birth, they also have another female with them who acts as a midwife."

According to a PBS online article featuring Anamalai, a popular elephant habitat in India,

"The other female elephants in a herd -- the calf's aunts -- aid its mother, providing protection and caring for the calf."

But Lakshmi has never been with a herd, she has spent her entire life in captivity. If she births a baby, she could turn around and kill it. But then of course humans would most likely take away the baby, make it entirely dependent on them, and exploit it for profit. It's a seemingly dark and vicious cycle.

Lakshmi and Ramabadhran are two of the eight elephants featured in Gods in Shackles. The plight of these two elephants rings true for approximately 700 captive elephants of Kerala that are suffering physical and emotional torture, so humans can make money under the guise of culture and religion. You can join our movement to end this cruel cycle by clicking HERE.

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