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Tuesday, 17 December 2013 | Sharmila Krishna | Lucknow

In a first for India and leading the way for compassionate management of elephants, Wildlife SOS, a Delhi-based NGO, has established India’s first ever Chain-Free Elephant Care Centre in Mathura in association with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department.

The centre which has seven elephants currently was opened in 2010 but it has recently been made chain free. Experts state that it takes two years and a lot of patience to make the elephant chain free. DFO Mathura Mahavir Kajaulavi while talking to “The Pioneer” on Monday confirmed that the as per his knowledge this was the first chain free elephant care centre in the country. “As per the information I have it is the first elephant care chain free centre in the country. The elephants that have been rescued are brought from various parts of the country to this centre” said the DFO.

Kartick Satynarayan from the Wildlife SOS said that it was a difficult task making them chain free, “They are accustomed to being beaten up by the mahouts and it takes at least two years to make them feel confident that if they are not wearing any chains they would not be beaten up. Special beds are also prepared for the elephants and even the mahouts have to be trained in this regard. It is a task which requires a lot of patience which people do not have” said Kartick.

The Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) established by Wildlife SOS in collaboration with Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, currently houses seven rescued elephants who were rescued from circuses and from cruel owners who were in illegal possession of these elephants.

Kartick said that Elephants in India suffer a great deal. “ First they are captured as young calves from the wild, separated from their mother and their family herd, then they are trained using brutal techniques that involves a lot of beating while remaining tied up for months on end. Once they are trained, their life of slavery begins where they are chained for long hours each day and either sold to circuses where they are further beaten (technically called training) to perform absurd tricks or to owners who exploit them for use at wedding functions, election campaigns or temple ceremonies” said Kartick.

He said that Bull (Male) elephants have an even worse treatment as they come into musth when they become uncontrollable and don’t obey their mahouts. “Musth” can last for several months and the elephant becomes unpredictable. “During such times the bull elephant is chained on all four feet and left standing in his own urine and dung for months until he comes out of musth. He cannot even lie down and rest. The thick iron chains bite into the flesh of the elephant’s legs and causes infections. Numerous elephants die each year suffering silently” he added.

 At the Wildlife SOS Elephant Care Center, a unique method of management is used. Positive reinforcement, freedom, care and compassion. No chains, bull hooks (ankush) or other cruel tools or implements to train the elephants are used at the center. The mahouts have been trained to manage the elephants with kindness and compassion and to allow the elephants to enjoy their newfound freedom.

 The center is also home to two large bull elephants “Bhola” and “Rajesh” who have been housed in spacious PCE (Protected Contact Enclosures) which enables the elephants to be managed without any chains even during musth. The five cow elephants (females) housed here come from across India. The most recent elephant received here is ‘laxmi’ a begging elephant from Mumbai who is under rehabilitation with a special diet and exercise regime.

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