The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) filed the inspection report on this year’s Thrissur Pooram festival in the Supreme Court of India today. The AWBI inspection team included a veterinarian and other animal welfare experts from Animal Rahat, a sister organisation of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India; Idukki Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; and PAWS Thrissur, whose staff are also Honorary Animal Welfare Officers of the AWBI. The findings of the inspection of elephants when they were paraded on 17 and 18 April include the use of elephants suffering from wounds that were deliberately hidden with black material, elephants suffering from impaired vision and cracked nails, and the use of banned torture devices such as ankuses. The elephants were found to be chained by all four legs and forced to stand for many hours, with no protection from the hot sun, and they were not given sufficient drinking water. Out of the 67 elephants paraded, 31 were found to be apparently illegal because of their custodians’ lack of a valid ownership certificate, which is mandatory as per the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972. The reports say that since the elephants used were suffering from various ailments, the fitness certificate issued by a team that included officials from the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department and veterinarians from Kerala’s Animal Husbandry Department is apparently illegitimate. The report, which includes photographs and videos, states that the elephants were subjected to cruelty in apparent violation of the orders of the Supreme Court, the Kerala High Court and various animal-protection laws.
On 16 April, the AWBI-authorised inspection team was denied permission to inspect the elephants in the fitness-check camp. However, the team managed to inspect the elephants during the parade. The report asks that the state government repeat the health examination of all 67 elephants and calls for necessary action based on their fitness and legitimacy of ownership as per the law. The report also lists the reasons justifying the need for registering the elephants with the AWBI under the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001, instead of with the district committee of Thrissur, M.N. Jayachandran, the AWBI nominee to the district committee and also a member of the AWBI inspection team, has officially lodged a complaint with the state government calling for disciplinary action against the erring officials for denying AWBI inspectors access to the fitness camp on 16 April.
“Cruelty is inherent when wild animals such as elephants are kept in captivity through the use of chains and then exposed to fireworks, loud drumming and a crowd of thousands while beingparaded for entertainment”, says PETA India Director of Veterinary Affairs and member of the Kerala State Animal Welfare Board, Manilal Valliyate. “PETA look forward to seeing the central government ban the use of elephants for any kind of performance, as has been done for other protected wild animals.”
In its 18 April 2015 order, the Supreme Court stated that if any owner, organiser, or festival or temple coordination committee treated elephants cruelly, the offender would be held liable for contempt. The Kerala High Court, in its 14 April 2016 order, directed that “[n]o elephant which is found unfit to participate in the ceremonial parade shall be utilised and the District Magistrate will ensure that use of any such animal is clearly excluded”. Although it’s illegal to beat and torture animals, elephants forced to participate in parades and poorams are trained through physical punishment and the constant threat of being struck with a stick or an ankus (a weapon with a sharp metal hook on the end). Capturing an elephant is prohibited under the WPA, yet many captive elephants are thought to have been captured illegally from the wild, which PETA India – whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” – are working to stop.