Thursday, December 23, 2010

How would YOU deal with a pachyderm menace? (Indian state of Kerala)

Here in southern California, we have just had to deal with a week's worth of rain. My friends in Europe have had to deal with devastating cold and snow.

But none of us have had to worry about elephants charging around.

The Times of India:

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala government has agreed to consider a proposal to empower forest officials to carry out mock firing to scare away wild elephants.

State food minister C Divakaran informed the Assembly on Thursday about the efforts being taken by the government to control the pachyderm menace in the forest regions of the state.

And it's not just a matter of an elephant showing up on your street one day.

Wild elephants have killed fifteen persons in Nilambur and Malabar forest regions of the state in the last four years. The pachyderm menace forced the state government to put solar fencing and trenches around the forest regions to check the increasing incidents of man-animal conflict.

Now I suspect that if 15 people had been killed in San Bernardino, even the most rabid PETA activists wouldn't be opposed to a little bit of mock firing. So why is this being debated? Because of the importance of elephants to the culture of the Indian state of Kerala. Wikipedia:

The Elephants are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala, India.[1] These Indian elephants are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the state's culture.[2] Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the 'sons of the sahya.' As the state animal, the elephant is featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala.

The concept is - quite literally - foreign to me, but I can imagine that it would be very disconcerting to me if the national symbol of my state actually killed a family member.

Here is how the American TV channel Animal Planet reported on an elephant rampage in Kerala. (Embedding disabled by request.)

In addition to mock firings, other measures are being used:

During festive season, when the elephants are compelled to stand for more than 6 hours, measures were taken to give succulent vegetables and fruits frequently. They were allowed to walk on shady places. Wet gunny bags were placed underneath their foot. 12 hours rest period was made compulsory for elephants before moving to the next festival. Series of Mahout training programmes and awareness seminars were conducted to create awareness on scientific management practices among mahouts, public and students. Interventions in transportation norms were followed.

Elephants are allowed to walk only 20 km per day during morning and evening hours. Beyond 20 Km trucks were made compulsory as per captive elephant management rule prevalent in the state. Protocol for control of elephants and role of mahouts were well defined and implemented. Based on the SWOT analysis following remedial measures was identified in breeding, feeding, management, season, age, musth incidence, musth forecasting, Mahout training, behavior, over work, cruelty, transportation and disease control in tune with 'Captive Elephant Management Rule 2003'. Musth forecasting system was formulated based on previous incidences of musth.

For more on musth, see the non-embeddable Animal Planet video above.
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