Temple elephants

The pain of being a temple elephant

Print edition : March 21, 2014

At a temple festival in Kerala, elephants lined up during a display of colourful parasols, which in most cases lasts more than an hour and marks the high point of the festivities.

Sticks that mahouts use to discipline and control the elephants.

Thechikottukavu Ramachandran. This 50-year-old temple elephant, who has risen to superstar status in Thrissur, Kerala, was brought from Bihar as a teenager. His mood swings have on occasions proved fatal for mahouts and devotees.

Mahouts have a tough time dealing with exhausted elephants. The human-animal conflict adds another dimension to the situation, in which mahouts often end up as victims.

The festive spirit.

... And the fetters of cruelty.

A temple elephant precariously steps on to firm ground from a truck. Elephants are taken from temple to temple on trucks and the journey often lasts several hours, in a cramped position in most cases.

The white patches on the hind legs are soft, new skin formed over just-healed wounds. The chain rubbing on them constantly can create a new wound.

An exposed wound that can worsen because of the chain, which is rusted most of the time.

Charcoal paste applied to a wound caused by the chain, which in this case fastens tightly all four legs, making it difficult for the elephant even to move.

The sole of the elephant's feet has tender skin, which cracks after walking on hot ground, including tarred roads, and opens the way for diseases.

The mahout finds a newspaper to stand on while the elephant suffers the heat.

Chain marks on the skin on the head. The discolouration a little below marks the point where the mahout digs his stick in.

Two captive tuskers appear to be preparing for a face-off, probably over food, usually palm leaves, or the lack of it.

In this incident, which happened in Kochi in 2003, an angry temple elephant spun the mahout around and stamped him to death. Photo: By special arrangement

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