By B. Viju
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The death of an elephant at the Kottur elephant rehabilitation centre run by the state forest department has once again exposed the lack of basic amenities in the elephant camp.
On Monday, Keertana Kartik, a 35-year-old elephant succumbed to an unknown illness which is yet to be diagnosed by doctors who examined the elephant. The viscera of the dead elephant has been sent to Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.
Though elephant camp officials are saying that the elephant was suspected to have been suffering from tuberculosis, animal rights activists are not buying this argument as according to them the elephant was not given nutritious food and proper medical care in the camp for nearly a year.
In the last two year, seven elephants succumbed to various ailments at the rehabilitation centre, topping the number of deaths that occurred in the four elephant camps across the state.
There are four elephant care centres in the state and till last year, Kottur had the largest number of rescued elephants, both from the wild and those which were seized from elephant owners who did not have ownership certificate.
The forest department had taken possession of Keertana Kartik from a private elephant owner as he did not possess valid ownership certificate three years ago.
In his earlier avatar, the elephant was called Vallabapuram Adityan and was a regular at poorams and was known to be a calm and healthy elephant.
But forest officials say that he was already not keeping well for the past one year and his health was failing as months went by.
Animal rights activists point out that the camp does not have a veterinary outpost given the fact that there were more than 10 elephants till last year. A majority of them were baby wild elephants rescued from the wilderness in the fringes of the forest.
"The camp gets a direct funding from the centre, yet it is shocking that they do not have basic amenities like permanent shelter, sanitation and clean drinking water facility,'' V K Venkatchalam, secretary of animal heritage task force said.
In November last year, the state set up an State Elephant Task Force (SETF) following a directive from the Centre, but the force remains on paper.
SETF was supposed to visit all the elephant care centers and monitor the well-being of elephants there but members have yet to make their first visit to any of these camps till date.
The department also had ambitious plans to set up Kerala State Elephant Welfare Board for the well-being of elephants and mahouts which has not materialized till date. As per the plan, the welfare board would collect Rs10,000 as annual contribution for each animal from its owners and mahouts would have to chip in Rs100 annually. "There was stiff resistance from elephant owners and the project is yet to take off,'' an official said.