A team of veterinary inspectors consisting of the project leader for the Centre for Studies on Elephants at the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Kerala and a co-opted member and honorary animal-welfare officer of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) have documented cruel and apparently illegal abuse endured by a 3-year-old elephant calf named Suman, who currently appears on the Zee TV series Bandhan in Gujarat, where she is kept by her mahout (handler). The experts have recommended that she be transferred immediately to a reputable sanctuary for rehabilitation. They point to apparent violations of various provisions of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, including an illegitimate gift deed, and recommend that the Maharashtra Forest Department cancel the ownership certificate and confiscate Suman.
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1. The inspection team found that Suman was kept in strict confinement with short, tight nylon ropes.
2. She was also suffering from severe skin infections.
3. She had an untreated abscess the size of a lemon on the temporal region near the outer canthus of her right eye.
4. She exhibited signs of severe mental stress through stereotypic behaviour, such as trunk-weaving, swaying and head-bobbing, when off the set.
5. She was also threatened by her stick-bearing handlers in front of the inspectors and was not provided with adequate access to drinking water, appropriate housing or necessary veterinary care.
6. She had a healed puncture wound on the right chest region.
Although it is illegal to beat and torture elephants, captive elephants are trained through violence. Handlers typically break elephants’ spirits by forcing them into a kraal (an enclosure) in which they cannot move or by tying them to two trees and beating them with ankuses (hooked iron weapons) or sticks until they lose all hope. When not performing, elephants spend their lives in ropes or chains and live in fear of being hit. A television production set, with its relentless retakes and trainers’ orders, is also a terrifying environment for animals, who cannot make sense of what is happening around them.
The AWBI is fighting for Suman’s freedom in the High Court of Bombay. The case is likely to come up for a hearing on 20 March 2015.
You can help Suman. Let the creators of Bandhan know that viewers do not want to see animals forced to perform for television. Write to:
Mr Siddharth Kumar Tewary
L-31 Laxmi Industrial Estate
New Link Road, Andheri (West), Mumbai 400 053