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Monday, April 1, 2019

tale of 2 elephants ~ Gaja Muthassi Dakshayani & Flavia !!

In 2016, in Thiruvananthapuram,  in a glittering event -  86-year-old Dakshayani was conferred the ‘Gaja Muthassi’  title. Dakshayani's vision is failing, her eyes drooping and skin wrinkled, but she is still paraded at temple festivals by her owner, the Travancore Devasom Board.

Every now and then, we happen to see campaigns in various modes – spearheaded by foreigners, calling people and funds to save elephants - they would try to portray that in India, elephants are treated cruelly, being tortured and are suffering .. .. go to Kerala – in Temples if you have time to spend – you can realise the bond that exists between humans and the pachyderm and the way they are treated not with care but with affection.

Elsewhere, an elephant known as 'the saddest in the world' died at the age of 47, after more than four decades in solitary confinement at a Spanish zoo.  The elephant called - Flavia spent 43 years living alone in her enclosure at Cordoba Zoo, southern Spain and passed away recently.  Animal rights groups had made several attempts to try and have Flavia moved so she could be homed with other elephants, but were unable to succeed in time.

The elephant's health had been deteriorating for several months, and she was said to suffer from depression, The Local reports.She collapsed in her enclosure, and after she was unable to get to her feet, she was euthanized.(euphemism for killing, while in India, elephants too dye natural death, with hundreds mourning). Amparo Pernichi, the councillor in charge of Environmental issues at Cordoba City Hall, said Flavia's death was 'a tremendous blow in general for the zoo family,' according to the website.  It was stated that during the last six months, Flavia's physical condition had deteriorated, but especially so in the last two weeks'.Mr Pernichi called Flavia 'an icon of the city' and said she would be terribly missed.

So an elephant kept in captivity in enclosure in a zoo for 47 years is portrayed as treated well – but one who is tended affectionately is tortured, according to biased western media.   Elephants are highly social beings who live in tight-knit family units in the wild.African elephants live in herds with and average of more than 11 members, but 'mega herds' of several hundred and up to 1,000 individuals have been observed in the wild.A 2009 study found that interaction with other elephants provides 'the single most significant form of enrichment' to the lives of animals living in captivity.Solitary elephants have even been reported as resorting to 'self-harm', such as biting themselves, or displaying behaviour indicating mental health issues, such as rythmic swaying in their pens.

All these are findings of Western researchers and media .. .. back home, Gaja Muthassi literally means grand mother – the grand nanny of elephants. .. sadly, recently, the elephant that won such accolade, the  88-year-old pachyderm died after collapsing in her shelter.  On 5th Feb 2019,  Kerala bid a tearful adieu to its ‘Gaja Muthassi’ (grandmother of elephants), who was witness to generations grow up before her.Eighty eight-year-old Chengalloor Dakshayani, the oldest living Asian elephant, died after collapsing in her shelter at Sathyan Nagar in Pappanamcode by around 3 p.m. on Tuesday.The female elephant, under the possession of the Chengalloor Mahadeva Temple, was the oldest among all captive elephants managed by the Travancore Devaswom Board.

The Travancore royal family bought the elephant calf at Kodanad elephant camp near Ernakulam, and donated her to their Thiruvarattu Kavu temple at Attingal in 1949, when she was five or six years old; she was transferred to the Chenkalloor Mahadeva Temple in the late 1960s. The State Forest Department registered her age as 76 on July 18, 2007.   In 2016, when she became the oldest known elephant in Asia,  the Board applied to Guinness World Records to have her recorded as the oldest elephant in captivity, a record previously held by Lin Wang of the Taipei Zoo, who died in 2003 at the age of 86.

Chengalloor Dakshayani was still participating in temple rituals in 2017, but her parading was restricted after 2015. When she had  trouble moving and her food was supplemented by hand feeding of pineapples and carrots. The Devaswom Board had formally accorded the title of ‘Gaja Muthassi’ to the elephant with much fanfare in July 2016. A special postal cover was also released by the India Post to mark the occasion. According to Devaswom veterinary surgeon T. Rajeev, who supervised the elephant’s health regime for around 10 years, Dakshayani suffered no significant ailment or lack of appetite during the last days. Reminiscing about the grand old elephant, Dr. Rajeev said handling her was not very difficult. Her nature endeared her to many people and many travelled long distances to catch a glimpse of the elephant.

Bye bye Gaja Muthassi ~ Dakshayani.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
12th Mar 2019

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