What Future for Indiaís
(Elephant Cruelty: A Worst Case Scenario)
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Chief Consultant, India Project for Animals and Nature
In July 1998 the Tamil Nadu State Forest Department captured a crop-raiding
elephant in South India. This 35-40 year old makhna (tuskless male) sustained
severe injuries in the process of being captured, and being dragged, drugged,
and goaded in chains for 8 days to the Teppakadu Elephant Camp in the
Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The official report stated the journey took
A video taken by a TV station documenting edited segments of the
capture revealed that:
- Because the capture team had no elephant ropes that were not rotten,
a truck was used to carry heavy chains, but for some reason was several
kilometers away when the elephant was caught.
- This meant the chemically immobilized makhna received additional injections
until the truck arrived, putting the elephant at risk from drug overdose.
- Severe bloating, elevated temperature, and prolonged recovery from
the drugs resulted.
- The chains were wrapped and wired around the elephantís lower legs
very tightly and were twisted and tied like a tourniquet. This shackling
was neither supervised nor inspected when completed by the attendant
veterinarian. It was immediately evident that the legs would be damaged,
especially the left foreleg where a hook on the chain was digging deeply
into the skin and the ulnar tendon beneath.
- During the 2-hour recovery period from the immobilizing drug, and
until the makhna was able to stand and walk, the video film documented
repeated and unnecessary goring by five trained elephants (kumkis) on
command by their mahouts. The ropes put around the makhnaís neck, and
the leg shackles, were pulled in opposite directions on several occasions
when the elephant was trying to get up, making it impossible for him
to actually get up.
- When he was standing up, with his left foreleg shackles being pulled
so tight that the foot was off the ground, he was rammed from behind
by one kumki and gored in the face by another positioned in front of
him. How often this deliberate cruelty occurred could not be determined
since the video had been extensively edited judging from the date and
time displayed on various segments.
- The elephantís entire body, except for an abscess on the right shoulder
region, showed no injuries when he was lying immobilized and when he
first stood up. His overall physical state was excellent in terms
of body fat and skin condition.
* Loki, the Norse messenger-god, was the name chosen by Deanna Krantz
for this elephant beause he is the messenger to the world about the plight
of Asian elephants, captive and wild.
- According to mahout informants the makhna was in such good condition
that the five chronically malnourished kumkis had difficulty pulling
and controlling him during the 8 day journey to the elephant camp. He
was injected several times with a tranquilizer during the journey.
- Though smaller than these tuskers, the makhna smashed the kraal at
the camp where these tuskers are confined when in musth. So he was chained
by his injured legs to a tree until a more sturdy kraal was built.
- A month later, according to India Project for Animals and Nature (IPAN)
veterinary and animal care staff, his physical condition was seriously
deteriorated from malnutrition, which prevented wound healing and encouraged
the spread of infection.
- A Forest Department staffer (who was subsequently transferred) appealed
to locally-based India Project for Animals and Nature (IPAN), directed
by Deanna Krantz, to extend help, but were refused access to the makhna
by the veterinarian in charge.
- IPAN Director Deanna Krantz then went to see the Wildlife Warden who
conceded to IPANís involvement with the treatment and feeding of the
- For four months IPAN collaborated with the Forest Department to provide
proper feed and medicines and advised on current wound treatment. The
Department had insufficient diesel allotted and no reliable transportation
to collect fodder daily directly from local farmers. Urgently needed
antibiotics had not been secured because of administrative holdups,
the supplying pharmacy not having been reimbursed for the first bill.
- Improper treatment with concentrated disinfectants and antibiotic
powders of the annular wounds on all four legs caused by shackling resulted
in massive infection and tissue necrosis four to six inches deep. The
tendon on the left foreleg became separated from connecting tissues
and bowed out. Instead of applying a pressure bandage, the tendon was
severed by the attendant veterinarian, leaving an infection-tracking
- The veterinarian did not have proper needles to administer antibiotic
injections, the short needles causing abscesses at several injection
sites where the drug went under the skin and was not absorbed and therefore
of no use in fighting infection. The skin was never cleaned with alchohol
prior to infections being given.
- Abscesses caused by goring by the kumkis were cut open and the internal
capsule broken with non-sterile probes. This resulted in tracking of
pus under the skin and the development of more abscesses, especially
on the left shoulder and upper leg.
- IPAN advised provision of sand for the kraal floor, made of narrow
logs that made an extremely uncomfortable surface for the crippled elephant
to stand on. Constantly wet, the elephantís feet became infected, infested
with maggots, and toenails on one hind foot rotted off.
- IPANís involvement in the veterinary care and proper nutrition of
the makhna for four months included flying in a veterinary surgery professor,
Dr. Jim Mahoney, from the U.S., who worked on the elephantís leg injuries
and abscesses, and prescribed broad spectrum antibiotic injections.
During his three weeks of diligent wound treatment the makhna improved
- During his stay, Dr.Mahoney witnessed a 45-minute session of cane-whipping
by two mahouts. IPAN Field Manager Nigel Otter recorded the cries of
pain the elephant made as he was beaten on his wounds to make him lie
down. This is still standard practice to break/train elephants. But
this standard surely cannot be applied to an elephant with such injuries
and who, because he is so crippled, cannot lie down. One experienced
mahout confided that this elephant was too old to be trained anyway,
since the beatings made him more fearful and aggressive rather than
- As soon as Dr. Mahoney left, Dr. Krishnamurthy, the chief veterinarian,
stopped the course of antibiotic therapy and opened up and re-infected
the abscesses that had almost healed. Improper treatment of the leg
wounds was resumed, and the feet were left unattended. Replacement of
sand in the kraal was discontinued.
- Soon after, on December 25, 1998, the Wildlife Warden, Mr. Udaiam,
informed IPAN Director Deanna Krantz that her services were no longer
- The elephant was next seen and fed by IPAN staff without official
sanction, over a month later. He was found to be seriously malnourished
and his various wounds and feet were in worse condition than when Dr.
Mahoney left. The wounds on his lower legs had been covered with boric
acid powder. This is no more than a cosmetic cover-up and was clearly
interfering with the wound healing process.
- The makhna was clearly suffering psychologically as well as physically.
He was in a state of learned helplessness and terror. The jangling of
a chain, the crack of a whipping cane, and the shouts of trainers made
him urinate uncontrollably and become extremely agitated. It was obvious
that so long as he remained at the elephant camp he would be in a chronic
state of anxiety.
- As of February 1, 1999, this elephant had been standing and unable
to walk or have any exercise, confined to a 16" x 16" kraal
for over six months. Combined with the beating, the prior capture-injuries,
and inadequate nutrition, the incarceration of this creature is surely
one of the worst instances of animal cruelty ever documented.
In view of the above facts, which evidence clear violation of Indiaís
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and because this particular elephant
has already suffered so much, he must be saved from further suffering
that his "training" to carry tourists on his back will certainly
IPAN, along with local concerned citizens, Indian animal welfare
and veterinary experts, and a growing international network of NGOís and
informed individuals appealed to the appropriate authorities to save the
makhna from further suffering. It was evident that he should also be freed
from official obfuscation of the severity of his tragic ordeal, and from
the administrative limbo that can result when no one assumes full responsibility
for his ultimate well-being.
Loki is no ordinary elephant because he has suffered so much. He
is a special case, and the four collaborative initiatives articulated
below were supported by local, national, and international experts and
concerned humanitarians. These collaborative initiatives were simple and
could have been quickly expedited:
- IPAN involvement in all aspects of Lokiís feeding, veterinary treatment,
and general care.
- Enlargement of Lokiís kraal to permit freedom of movement.
- No more beating and chaining to break his spirit and to make him "tame".
- Transfer at the earliest to a sanctuary away from the elephant camp
where if he were to remain, he would live in perpetual terror and be
constantly reminded of the tragic ordeal of being taken from the wild.
But the State Minister of Forests did not even reply to Ms. Krantzís
letter expressing these collective concerns and collaborative initiatives.
The status quo of elephant cruelty and suffering was to remain unchanged.
- On January 31, 1999, a bus-load of schoolchildren and several concerned
adults held a quiet demonstration in front of Lokiís kraal. Several
members of the press and TV were also present, independent of IPANís
involvement. Forest officials brought in local police, manhandled one
reporter, and threatened to make arrests. A bogus case against Deanna
Krantz was filed with the police by the Forest Department for disturbing
law and order and for agitating a riotous mob. Forest guards, several
of whom were drunk and asleep at the time of the childrenís peaceful
Sunday afternoon protest, subsequently demanded police protection. By
also falsely accusing IPANís Director Deanna Krantz of making a media
spectacle out of Loki for her own personal publicity, the Tamil Nadu
Forest Department is using her as a scapegoat to deflect rising public
censure over their incompetence and lack of public accountability.
- Several local and national newspapers, magazines, and television networks
covered Lokiís saga. Lokiís message is one of bureaucratic bungling
and cover-up, from the time of capture to the grossly unprofessional
veterinary care, lack of nutrition, and cruel beating at one of Indiaís
purportedly "best" Elephant Camps. That world-renowned elephant
expert veterinarian Dr. Krishnamurthy was in charge of all treatments
and general care casts doubt on his reputation and competence, if not
also on Indiaís ability to protect the dwindling wild elephant population
and to properly care for those in captivity.
- Elephant expert Ian Redmond from the U.K.ís Born Free Foundation met
with Dr. Krishnamurthy and other local officials at IPANís behest in
early February, 1999. Dr. Krishnamurthy told him that IPAN staff could
resume feeding the makhna, which, the day after Ian returned to the
U.K., he prohibited. He also told Ian that when released, the makhna
would be on a long drag chain, free to browse in the surrounding jungle,
which was also untrue. When released on February 6, 1999, Loki was chained
by one front leg and one hind leg between two trees, with less freedom
of movement than when he was in the 16" x 16" kraal. Furthermore,
there was no forage in the jungle around the Elephant Camp for Loki
to eat because it had been overgrazed and fodder trees decimated by
the resident population of some 27 chronically malnourished elephants.
- Dr. Krishnamurthy told the press that IPAN, being a Western organization,
did not understand the 200-year old traditional practice of training
elephants, that included beating them into submission. Earlier, both
he and the Wildlife Warden Udaiam denied that Loki had ever been beaten.
When asked by Ian Redmond why Loki looked so thin and malnourished,
he was curtly told by Udaiam that "elephants always lose weight
during the dry season".
- When I inspected Loki a few days before his release from the kraal
in chains, I found an emaciated, dispirited creature being fed 1-2 kgs.
of edible ficus twig-bark and banyan leaves. Along with the other elephants
at the Camp he was also fed cooked balls of ragi (a kind of millet)
that one Forest Deaprtment staffer informed us was of poor quality and
to which soil and sand was routinely added by corrupt suppliers. The
wounds on his legs had not fully healed. Two gaping holes where he had
been gored on one side had not yet healed and were exuding sero-sanginous
pus. He became extremely agitated and urinated in fear when a mahout
came by and when he heard a chain rattle.
- When Loki was removed from the kraal and chained to trees close to
the river at the edge of the Elephant Camp, making him visible from
the road, the Forest Department placed guards to stop anyone from photographing
the makhna. During the previous month and after the media expose, no
visitors or cameras had been permitted near Loki in the kraal.
- Such cover-up triggered by adverse publicity is understandable, considering
the deplorable lack of adequate nutrition for the Elephant Campís 27
resident pachyderms. Males remain chained to trees for up to 13 hours
a day. Females are allowed to roam free on drag-chains so that they
might mate with wild bulls. The resident bulls, for obvious reasons,
have no libido. Due to over grazing, there is little natural forage
left at the camp for these animals, so fodder-trees in the surrounding
Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary are being hacked and denuded. This Elephant
Camp should be closed and the elephants relocated. Until recently the
camp conducted an elephant circus for visiting eco-tourists.
- According to two mahouts interviewed on February 16, 1999, who contend
that Loki is too old to ever be trained and will probably die soon from
stress and starvation, he is now being regularly beaten and kept chained
to two trees at night. During the day he is taken into the forest on
a heavy drag-chain on his one good hind leg. He is then allowed to graze
after his two front legs have been chained together. But now it is the
dry season, there is little to eat, and his leg wounds are beginning
to open up and fester again.
- There are many reasons to cover up gross incompetence and animal cruelty.
The Elephant Camp and Dr. Krishnamurthy are linked with commercial interests
involved in captive breeding and circus exploitation of elephants; and
with an earlier grant of some $150,000 from the U.S. Smithsonian Institution
to set up an elephant stud book for captive elephant breeding in the
Indian subcontinent. There are also close linkages with the Indian Institute
of Science in Bangalore and considerably more funding from the U.S.
government (USAID and the affiliated IUCN) to research elephant ecology
and to put radio collars on crop-raiding elephants to find out why they
are raiding crops, according to one Indian field biologist from the
Institute. It is patently obvious why they become crop-raiders Ė because
their jungle habitat has been encroached and denuded of vegetation.
Such science-based research and management, and the attendant risks
of putting radio-collars on wild elephants, side-steps the politics
of elephant conservation and extinction.
- This scientific research and management approach to elephant conservation,
with the U.S. and other GOís and NGOís providing funds for wild
elephants to wear radio collars around their necks, is of very questionable
value and puts wild elephantsí lives at risk. Using radios to track
and monitor crop raiding elephants may conserve jobs and institutions,
but so long as the politics and socio-economics of elephantsí habitat
destruction and related people/elephant conflicts are not addressed,
it will simply mean elephant research and management into extinction.
- U.S. taxpayers, via H.R. 1787, the Asian Elephant Conservation
Act of 1997, could soon be contributing some $500,000 per annum,
once funds are approved, under the aegis of the Interior Departmentís
Fish and Wildlife Service, to fund these kinds of poorly monitored
activities in India that do more harm than good to protect this
- The story of Loki, the messenger, cannot be covered up. His story
connects with others: falsification of autopsy reports by bribed
state veterinarians paid to cover up elephants electrocuted by high-power
wires around rich landownerís fields; elephants being shot with
homemade guns by villagers who have encroached into the last of
the wild; hungry elephants raiding crops whose territory has been
invaded by tea and coffee plantations and their "corridors"
blocked by agricultural expansion and innumerable guest lodges;
elephants and other wildlife dying from diseases contracted from
infected livestock because state veterinary services to vaccinate
and otherwise improve the health of domestic animals are virtually
non-existent; poaching by ivory hunters who can easily outgun and
outrun Forest guards who have no diesel, vehicles, or radios to
patrol and protect the elephantsí dwindling domain, and who are
often bribed at check-posts.
IPAN has fully documented these problems that threaten the largest
remaining wild elephant population in India. First-hand reports of
elephants being captured to have radio collars fitted for "research
and management" studies and being killed in the process have
also been obtained by IPAN.
The plight of Loki and of his kin in the wild is also linked
with the demise of local tribals such as the Kurumbas, Irulas, and
Todas. IPAN works closely with these indigenous peoples, and in the
process of treating their domestic animals, has first-hand knowledge
about those individuals and government agencies that make up the "
who and what and why" that are endangering all that is left of
the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary.
Elephants are not only sacred to most Indians as the living embodiment
of divinity Ė Ganesh. Elephants are held in awe and reverence by millions
of people around the world. They are also the "flagship"
indicator-species of ecosystem health and effective conservation programs.
The elephants of India and of other Asian and African countries are
in sacred trust for the entire Earth community and for generations
to come. That trust and the very spirit of Ganesh would have been
affirmed to the world if the authorities responsible for Lokiís fate
had conceded to the above cooperative and conciliatory initiatives.
During my investigations I had a chance meeting in February 1999
with an Indian Institute of Science (IIS) researcher, with whom I
had enjoyed cordial relations before. His arrogance, and insistence
that the death of an elephant while being fitted with a radio collar
was contrary to our eye-witnessesí testimony was an unexpected change
of character. The "official report", this scientist insisted,
was accidental death because the elephant fell on a tree stump. Her
orphaned baby, he assured me, was two years old, and would be taken
in by the herd. "Why risk elephantsí lives putting radio-collars
on them?" I asked. "To study why they raid crops",
he replied. "Why do they raid crops?" I pressed. "Because
they are hungry", he answered. "Why are they hungry?"
I retorted. He stared at me and then walked away.
Our eye-witness, on the IIS team, that this former wild-dog researcher
was supervising, told us that the baby would probably die since she
was actually about 2 months old. The team accidentally darted the
wrong animal, a nursing mother, decided to put a radio collar on her
anyway, but finding it too loose, and fearing the drug was wearing
off, gave her a second injection so they could tighten the collar.
She died from drug overdose. Dr. Krishnamurthy was the veterinarian
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