Breathalyzer test for mahouts, security cordon for elephants in festival venues mandated by Forest Dept

Thrissur Pooram; a copy of the circular issued by the forest department.

Thiruvananthapuram: The forest department has mandated the use of breathalyzers for mahouts who accompany elephants for festivals. The circular issued by D Jayaprasad, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, also specifies that the use of crackers, percussion and theevetti (a kind of fire display in temples) shall not be done within a 50-m radius of the elephants and it shall not cause any kind of stress to the animals.

According to the circular issued in the wake of directions from the High Court, the mahouts shall be subjected to a breathalyzer test to detect the use of drugs or liquor by mahouts. If a mahout tests positive, he and the elephant will be removed from the festival precincts.

D Jayaprasad told Onmanorama that the instructions included in the circular were finalised following discussions with the stakeholders and if there is inconvenience, a clarification will be issued. He said that the condition regarding the 50 m radius may be relaxed to 30 m. The circular has been issued considering rising instances of elephants turning violent in festival venues in a way threatening the life and property of the public and also considering the extreme summer heat.

The elephant owners and the temple committee have raised objections to certain conditions in the circular. Thrissur pooram, one of the most celebrated temple festivals began on Saturday (kodiyettam). Practical concerns have been raised regarding compliance with some of the conditions mentioned in the circular. A meeting has been scheduled for Saturday noon.

The circular also says that in case an elephant runs amok during the conduct of the festival, the officials, the members of the elephant squad and the elephant owners should ensure that banned materials like capture belts and metal hooks are not used.

If the parade includes more than five elephants, there shall be sufficient number of veterinary doctors in the specially constituted elephant squads and they shall be equipped with tranquillizers and medicines. Only those elephants registered in the list approved by the District Elephant Monitoring Committee shall be allowed to take part in the procession. Such elephants which are permitted to be paraded in festivals shall be checked by a team of three doctors 12 hours before the start of the festival.

The temple committee shall obtain a fitness certificate from the medical team certifying that the elephant has no visual impairment, signs of musth, injury, wound or bruise on its body or any kind of deformity. A safe distance has to be ensured between elephants and people have to stand at least three metres from the elephant and only the mahout shall be allowed to touch the elephant.

The High Court is considering a batch of petitions related to the use of robotic elephants in temple festivals and also seeking a ban on parading two injured elephants and one elephant with a history of violence.

A security cordon has to be ensured for elephants by the police and festival volunteers. The temple committees have also been directed to ensure whether the elephants have a history of causing loss of human life or property in the past and details of elephants shall be communicated to the Assistant Forest Conservator, Social Forestry.

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