Wednesday, March 3, 2010

India\'s overworked elephants

The southern state of Kerala is home to the largest captive elephant population in India. But many question the way the animals are treated. The BBCs Soutik Biswas reports.



\"Where in the world is the elephant worst treated? The honest and straight answer is Kerala,\" says one of the states best-known writers, Paul Zacharia.



Mr Zacharia is alluding to the plight of the states 700 captive elephants, the largest \"domesticated\" elephant population in India.



These elephants are owned by some 250 people and a number of temples. They are mainly rented out during the more than 10,000 festivals every year for parades and processions.



The states most venerated Hindu temple, Guruvayur, alone owns 66 captive elephants, aged from 14 to 70. They live on seven acres of land outside the temple, and are looked after by some 200 keepers or mahouts.



The elephants are also hired by political parties for campaign processions, and by companies for promoting their goods in trade fairs. At one temple festival, the animals are made to run a ritual one kilometre race every year.

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