SAGA OF LOKI THE INDIAN ELEPHANT
This report is not just a lot of fund-raising fuss about one Indian elephant. It concerns the fate of all animals in India, and the status and future of animal welfare and conservation law enforcement and programs, and of the Indian Veterinary Service. "Makhna" is the name given to tuskless male elephants, one of whom was caught in July 1998 by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department in South India because he was raiding crops and was alleged to be a rogue (purportedly killing several people). This elephant, whom we call Loki, is the messenger to the world about the plight of India's elephants. They are being poached, poisoned, shot, and electrocuted. Some become crop-raiders when their habitat is subject to relentless human encroachment. Some are called rogues when they become killers of people after constant harassment, after being shot, and after their domain has been encroached upon by agricultural and other developments, including tourist guest lodges and tea or coffee plantations.
This 40-year old Makhna was shot with a tranquilizer gun, severely gored by 5 trained elephants, then drugged, beaten, and dragged in chains for 8 days by road to the Theppakadu Elephant Camp in the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. This is part of a designated Biosphere Reserve that has the largest remaining wild elephant population in India. The official report states that his journey took only 3 days and that his body had several gunshot wounds, rather than gore wounds. The tips of the tusks of the helper elephants at the camp were cut off a short time later, possibly a cover-up of the Makhna being repeatedly gored. He developed more abscesses where he was injected with antibiotics with needles that were too short, and tracking of infection from improper abscess treatment. The chain-shackles cut him down to the tendons on his legs. They became deeply infected and abscesses developed where he had been gored. Inappropriate and inconsistent veterinary treatment and inadequate nutrition and basic care at the Elephant Camp made his wounds worse and spread infection. He was incarcerated for over 6 months in a small kraal in which he could neither walk nor lie down.
Deanna Krantz, Director of the locally-based India Project for Animals and Nature (IPAN), a division of New York-based Global Communications for Conservation, Inc., was contacted to come and save this elephant's life by several concerned local people and Forest Department staff, who had seen the elephant's worsening condition. Deanna was initially allowed by the authorities to provide proper feed, medicines, and veterinary care, using her limited funds and time that she needed to care for over 200 animals at her Animal Refuge, and taking staff time away from providing free veterinary care for animals in surrounding villages.
For 4 months, Deanna cared for the Makhna, Loki, and he was beginning to recover. But one day her staff witnessed a training session that the Indian authorities had told the mahouts (elephant trainers) to start. During the training session the mahouts beat the elephant on his wounds for 45 minutes, during which he cried in pain and terror.
Soon after, on December 25, 1998, the authorities refused to allow Deanna to continue caring for Loki at the Camp. She appealed to the authorities, knowing the elephant's wounds were getting worse and he was being beaten and not given adequate food. But her appeals were ignored by all concerned. The course of intensive veterinary treatment initiated by IPAN was abruptly discontinued, putting the elephant's life at risk once more physically and psychologically.
There was much local and national media coverage, many reports misrepresenting IPAN's motives and factual documentation. This served to deflect the focus on Loki and polemicize and politicize the issue of Loki's welfare and fate. Some Forest Department officials used the media to blame Deanna as a troublemaker, and as being a Westerner who does not understand India's 200-year old tradition of training elephants.
In late January 1999, school children staged a demonstration at the Elephant Camp to save the Makhna. The school children's demonstration was initiated independently by other concerned individuals. No press or photos were subsequently allowed where the Makhna was being held, and guards were posted. Some officials lied to the media to cover up the cruelty and mistreatment of Loki, claiming all elephants lose weight naturally at that time of year because it was the dry season. Concerned individuals were told that when the Makhna was eventually taken out of the kraal he would be kept on a long drag-chain and would be free to roam the forest around the camp to feed. But there was almost no feed because the area was already overgrazed by other captive elephants.
Beginning February 6, 1999, Loki was removed from the kraal in chains, against the expert advice of IPAN volunteer and veterinarian Dr. James Mahoney. During the day his one good hind leg was shackled to a long drag chain. He was then taken into the forest to graze during which time his two crippled front legs were shackled together with heavy chains. He was pencil thin, according to one staff member of the Forest Department. The chains had reopened the wounds on his partially healed legs. At night he was chained to a tree for over 12 hours, like all male elephants at the Camp.
Organizations and concerned individuals then launched a worldwide appeal to the Indian authorities, because negotiations with responsible authorities were to no avail. Thousands of people responded and supported IPAN's appeal for this broken-spirited animal not to be beaten, to be given adequate food and water, appropriate veterinary care, and freedom from a life in chains because he had already suffered enough. Support from Congressman Sam Farr and some 30 other members of Congress resulted in the Indian authorities conducting an investigation. IPAN's concerns were dismissed as all lies and publicity-seeking, and as deliberate misinformation motivated by vested interests, as well as some deeper and greater conspiracy.
Loki's saga became the second most controversial political issue in India in 1999, according to informed sources. In early March 1999, the press was allowed to visit the broken elephant, who was presented as a picture of tranquility, a reformed and tamed rogue, who could be fed by hand. Anyone is now welcome to visit the elephant, the Wildlife Warden announced to the press. When IPAN Field Manager Nigel Otter, who helped save Loki's life, came with Deanna to visit him, Loki called out in greeting, shuffled in his chains up to them, and leaned his great head against Nigel. Then tears gushed from the elephant's eyes. The Forest Minister had told Deanna and Nigel during a meeting the day before that they could come and feed Loki and give him medical attention, so they had brought a jeep full of food for Loki. But the Forest guards at the Elephant Camp had not been notified that Nigel and Deanna could feed Loki. Therefore, the guards prohibited them from bringing food into the Camp, and tragically Loki could not be fed or his wounds treated.
In April 1999, IPAN secured video documentation of Loki's condition from a staff member from the U.S. Consulate in Madras, who was allowed to visit and film the elephant. Loki had been carefully prepared, cosmetically, as he had been for earlier media presentations. The video showed clearly how his leg wounds had been packed with mud and straw and smoothed over with a mixture of neem oil and mud. He was still in chains and was evidently chronically malnourished and psychologically depressed.
In June 1999, Rep. Sam Farr held a press conference on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., using some of IPAN's video materials to focus on the plight of Loki and Indian elephants wild and captive. The intent of the press conference was to gain Congressional support for the lifting of sanctions against India so that funds could be released from the U.S. Asian Elephant Conservation Fund, which IPAN urged should be conditional on Loki being given proper sanctuary and care, and all elephant research in his domain being subject to in-field monitoring and oversight.
In July, prior to the visit of some elephant welfare and conservation experts from the U.S., Loki was moved to a remote elephant camp (called Game Hut camp) where no visitors were permitted. According to mahouts, Loki collapsed when he arrived in chains at the camp.
In September, he was returned to the first camp for a Ganesh elephant festival and was evidently emaciated, his feet were missing even more toenails and still unhealed, and new abscesses had developed on his body. He also had several lesions on his back where areas of skin were sloughing off. According to one mahout, this is where he had been repeatedly beaten at the Game Hut camp. While chained to a tree, he was severely gored in the left thigh by a wild bull elephant that came into the elephant camp in the middle of the afternoon. Loki remains in chains at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp. Even though he is now being given more food, he opens and closes his mouth when anyone comes by. We interpret this mouthing behavior as infantile care- soliciting and indicative of learned helplessness.
In early December, Nigel Otter was able to visit Loki and have contact with him for the first time in almost 10 months. Loki immediately gave his greeting call to Nigel, who reports that most of his wounds are now superficially healed but with extensive fibrous masses that can be felt under the skin. According to Forest Department employees, Loki is beaten every day, and he cries in protest, as he is forced to lie down in the river to be bathed. An appeal has been presented to the authorities to allow him to be bathed in the standing position because the wounds to his legs and confinement for many months in a small kraal have crippled him, making it extremely painful to flex and extend his legs in order to go down easily on command without repeated beatings.
IPAN continues to press for Loki being provided a large enclosed area where he would no longer be kept in chains. Ideally, the Elephant Camp should become an Elephant Sanctuary with elephants, who cannot be released into the wild, kept unchained in enclosed social groups. But there are pressures to maintain it as a semi-captive breeding center (with female elephants allowed into the forest on drag- chains to breed with wild bulls). There is a rising demand for young Asian elephants to replenish those in zoos and circuses, otherwise the captive US population, according to experts, will become extinct in 50 years.
The saga of Loki is a double tragedy that can still be put right. First, he was given hope by the tender loving care and healing expertise of IPAN staff, and that was all taken away when officials ordered the mahouts to beat him into submission. Secondly, there is concern about how some officials and members of the press have painted IPAN and Deanna. She had renounced the comfort and security of her home in the U.S. to work in India and serve those animals in need in the remote tribal and village communities for free, where adequate veterinary services were nonexistent until IPAN's arrival.
Loki is the messenger for the plight of all of India's elephants and of other animals wild and domestic. He is not the exclusive property of India's State Forest Department. He belongs to the world community, and the Indian authorities are being called upon to fulfill the sacred trust of caring for the last of these wild and magnificent creatures by doing what is right for Loki: Simply to work collaboratively with all concerned. The Makhna has suffered enough. The ultimate indignity of his life in chains at this Elephant Camp (that is now giving tourists elephant rides on animals trained by being beaten into submission) if he survives is totally unacceptable to the civilized world.
Dr. Michael W. Fox
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