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Elephant Abuse In Kerala Has Finally Gone Criminal

It's paradoxical that people in Kerala mourn and light candles after elephants die; it seems like a superficial display of compassion. If they genuinely loved elephants they would revere and respect the elephants when they are alive, and stop exploiting them in festivals and temples under the guise of culture and religion.
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Elephant washing on southern banks of the periyar river at Kodanad training center
Elephant washing on southern banks of the periyar river at Kodanad training center

A 20-year-old elephant named Chitillapilly Rajashekaran has been allegedly beaten to death and his body transported to another district in order to cover up the torture and wounds. This young elephant had just emerged from his musth -- an annual cycle when the bulls are in heat.

When they enter into their musth their testosterone and energy level surge. They're overwhelmed by the urge to mate. The cycle lasts for 3-4 months. The shackles are tightened severely to restrain them, as the elephants tend to become dominant during this time. In the wild the bulls wander for hours on end, finding mates and fighting with bulls. Whereas in captivity they become frustrated and aggressive as they're unable to release their energies. So these elephants are deprived of food and water, in order to make them weak and submissive.

But after they emerge from their musth these innocent animals must still undergo the cruelest of rituals that defy all holy books. It's a secret tradition that involves seven or eight drunk men beating the living day lights out of this animal for 48-72 hours. It's called Katti Adikkal, part of unchaining the bulls that emerge from their musth. The practice is based on a superstitious belief that the elephants may have forgotten their commands during their musth. It's a horrifying ritual designed to break the elephant's spirit and remind them that their masters are in control. All bull elephants in Kerala have to undergo this cruel practice every single year. In an email report, the Heritage Animal Task Force (HATF) Secretary Mr. Venkitachalam said,

"This elephant was subjected to high degree of beating by mahouts as part of breaking it from musth chaining for past three days. As a result of such cruel practice some of the internal parts got severe injuries and the elephant died instantly. The owner and mahouts applied mud and coal powder all over its four legs to hide the severe wounds. Then the body of the elephant was transferred from Trissur to Ernakulam district to cremate without a mandatory inquest into its death."

Mr. Venkitachalam alleges, the Government veterinarian Dr. Giridas has misinformed the press that Chitillapilly Rajashekaran's death was caused by heart attack and digestive issues. This is the first case of death of an elephant below the age of 21 in past six years, and the first elephant death in 2016. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) has now called on an inquest into the death of this elephant, and directed the government to conduct a postmortem. The AWBI Assistant Secretary, Mr. Vinod Kumar has directed the Chief Wildlife Warden of Kerala to appoint a an expert committee,

"There was a complaint that this elephant was tortured by mahouts ... in this connection I am directed to request you to to kindly appoint an expert committee including two pathologists from Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University."

You can find the letter from AWBI at the bottom of this article.

Photo credit: Venkitachalam

Chitillapilly Rajashekaran is the first elephant to die in 2016

Kerala has been blacklisted as one of the two states in India, notorious for elephant cruelty and poor welfare. Most recently an elephant named Unni Krishnan owned by Thiruvambadi Temple was heard screaming, as he was forced to parade with his crippled right leg, limping on hot granite floor to perform a ritual. Worse yet, all four feet were severely infected with pus coated wounds. The HATF secretary claims,

"One wound opened up and pus and blood flowed inside the temple."

We filmed the infection on Unni Krishnan's right foreleg in June 2015 for GODS IN SHACKLES, but since then I've been informed that the elephant has been eaten up by the infection, he has also contracted foot disease in his left foreleg.

Photo Credit: Sangita Iyer

Still shot Gods in Shackles film, Unni Krishnan's foot infection has since worsened

Elephants balance their massive bodies on four legs and they need to be healthy. But most elephants in Kerala that we have filmed for GODS IN SHACKLES film have chronic and serious foot diseases. Additionally, in the wild, they are always on the move. This is necessary to shift their weight evenly on all four legs. Whereas in captivity they are shackled 24 - 7 with short chains, making it difficult, if not impossible to even move their bodies.

Photo credit: Sangita Iyer

Thiruvambadi Unni Krishnan also had an infection on his face in June 2015

Thiruvambadi Devaswom, one of the most prestigious temples in Kerala, owns four more elephants including Lakshmi who was tortured to blindness. Her condition is worsening according to Venkitachalam,

"The body of this female elephant has been swollen for the past three months."

The temple authorities suspect that she's pregnant, whereas others say she suffers from serious digestive problems caused by the cheap diet, and has become obese. All of these elephants have been featured in our upcoming documentary, you can click HERE to learn more.

Photo credit: Sangita Iyer

Lakshmi was tortured to blindness in June 2015

Another elephant belonging to the same Temple named Shiva Sundaram was reportedly paraded under the scorching sun at 40°C on fuming tar roads, and forced to cross the hot metal railway lines in the middle of the day. Fortunately he reached the destination before he collapsed. Many elephants have died in railway crossings in India. The HATF Secretary decries,

"This elephant was forced to participate in festivals continuously for the past three days without providing water or fodder. It was transferred from one festival to another during day and night, without providing any rest for the elephant."

Photo credit: Heritage Animal Task Force

Meantime the condition of another elephant named Thiruvambadi Ramabadhran has been deteriorating rapidly. As reported previously, his paralyzed trunk makes it difficult to eat and drink, and the pus coated wounds all over his body and legs has made it impossible to move. He has been isolated from the other elephants to avoid potential spread of infection.

"All these four elephants are the examples of daily torture by the temple as the temple does not have any place to keep them on its own facilities to allow daily bath for them in flowing water. These elephants are not maintained properly nor are they given adequate veterinary care."

Venkitachalam filed a complaint, and Kerala's Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) has laid criminal charges against Thiruvambadi Temple's secretary for gross neglect of elephants. I've obtained an exclusive copy of the ACF's report which says,

"These extensive wounds clearly indicate neglected healthcare management in the past. Based on this report an offense was registered in this division as OR - 02/2016 against the Sec. of the Thiruvambadi Devaswom. Preliminary report was submitted before honorable judicial first class magistrate Court three Trissur."

As reported previously the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, a highly reputable animal welfare organization has launched a Supreme Court case against the states that use elephants for profit and entertainment. But despite the ongoing hearings, they continue to defy the Supreme Court orders and Kerala's Captive Elephant Management Rules, openly flouting the laws of the land with impunity. A court hearing is expected on February 19, 2016 and there's enough evidence of torture and neglect piling up against the elephant owners and temple authorities. Using undercover camera Gods in Shackles documentary exposes the barbaric practices, and layers of corruption that perpetrate torture of elephants. You can support our outreach campaign by clicking HERE

It's paradoxical that people in Kerala mourn and light candles after elephants die; it seems like a superficial display of compassion. If they genuinely loved elephants they would revere and respect the elephants when they are alive, and stop exploiting them in festivals and temples under the guise of culture and religion. Chitillapilly Rajashekaran was beaten, brutalized and tortured when he was alive. I hope they realize that paying homage in his death won't bring him back or undo the atrocities. It's a senseless act, a cover up to deal with their guilt.

Here's the AWBI call for an inquest into the death of Chitillapilly Rajashekaran