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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

IAR Goa campaigns to help elephants

Elephants in Goa are being used to obtain money from touristsThe sad plight of four temple elephants has prompted the team at Animal Tracks, IAR’s clinic and rescue centre in Goa, to mount a campaign to help them, reports Tanja Larsen.

IAR has started a petition to end the suffering of the elephants in North Goa. We are collecting as many signatures as possible and during the month of May they will be sent off to the Goa Tourism Department and the Goa Forestry Department. Whilst we are not optimistic that this will result in a future ban on using the elephants on the streets, we aim to make this the first step in an extensive campaign to try to improve the welfare of these elephants.

Although the elephants’ keepers - known as mahouts - break several animal welfare laws by exploiting their elephants for money, the fact that they have papers allowing them to keep the elephants seems to override any laws they may be breaking whilst having them in their care. At the moment the mahouts are given carte blanche to disregard the welfare of their animals, even though they are earning very large sums of money, most of which we suspect never goes towards looking after their elephants.

Over the coming year we plan to put together a strategy which will help us to determine exactly which laws are being broken by the mahouts’ activities, assess their documents and licences and do some investigation of their work. We aim to gather sufficient information to put forward a solid case for improving the elephants’ plight.

The four elephants in North Goa are brought down at the beginning of the tourist season in October from other states including Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. They then spend the following six months being paraded around the coastal belt from early morning to late evening - in the burning sun, with little access to food and water, and with no break from the traffic noise and the general commotion in the towns they pass through. The elephants’ mahouts charge extortionate prices to allow tourists to take a photo of the elephant or to sit on it for a few minutes. They claim to be from a poor charity in their own state collecting money for the survival of their temple and people tend to believe them and pay up.

At IAR Goa so far we have failed to find a satisfactory solution to the sorry plight of the elephants. Up until now we have had to explain to people that there is little we can do because the mahouts obtain a licence from the Governments in Goa as well as from their own state. This means that they are not holding the elephants in captivity illegally. Indeed many Hindu temples in India have a temple elephant because they are regarded as sacred animals by the Hindu religion.

Under India’s animal welfare laws in most cases it is illegal to use any wild animal for profit, regardless of any licence. We therefore started to ask ourselves whether the mahouts in Goa may be stretching the permission they are given to keep the elephant further than their licences allow.

There is no doubt that the basic requirements of these elephants are not being fulfilled as a direct result of the demanding work they have to do to entertain passers-by. A fully grown elephant eats approximately 160kgs of food and drinks up to 150 litres of water. They need daily baths to keep them hydrated and they should not work for more then five hours in one stretch - and under no circumstances should this be during the hottest hours of the day.

In January 2004 a number of photos were taken of an elephant in Baga, North Goa wearing a spiked iron clamp around its hind leg which was controlled by the person sitting on its back. As a method of control he could pull a rope attached to the clamp and make the spikes dig into the leg. No licence will allow the use of any such devices on animals and, upon making a complaint, IAR helped to ensure that this object of torture was no longer used.

Sadly, it was discovered in March 2007 that they are still being used occasionally. During a religious festival at a temple in Arpora, North Goa an elephant was going to be used during the parade. Because of the fireworks and loud music a similar spiked clamp had been fitted on to the elephant’s front leg to control it.

When the elephant was spotted outside the temple photos were immediately taken and the police were informed, much to the dismay of the organisers of the event. Because the police inspector was not available on that day, no action was taken until the following day when the mahouts were called in to produce the papers. By then a police officer had been to check the elephant and had found that the clamp had been removed. The mahouts assured the police that the clamp had only been used during the religious ceremony and that otherwise it was never fitted. The police subsequently checked their papers and were satisfied that all was in order. No further action was taken.

This is a very good example of how difficult it is to take action against the mahouts. Irrespective of their papers, they broke the law by using the spiked clamp. Whether used for one week, one day or one hour it is classed as animal abuse. However, although photographic evidence was produced of the device being used, the police chose to take no action because it had been removed by the time they investigated the complaint.

Nevertheless, we are absolutely determined to raise awareness of the plight of the elephants in Goa and continue collecting signatures to put pressure on the Government to act.

We do not expect to see results over night. However we are dedicated to the welfare of all animals and, with the help of our supporters, we must surely be able to do something to improve the lives of these elephants.