Chained Elephant Freed From Temple Is Reunited With Mother After 17 Years

For Immediate Release: 

8 July 2011


Benazir Suraiya ; [email protected]

Manilal Valliyate; [email protected]

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Madurai —After many years of what could only be described as torturous confinement, Mariappan, a 23-year-old male elephant who had been kept chained in abysmal conditions inside a dark shed at the Arulmigu Mariamman Temple in Samayapuram, has been permanently moved to his birthplace.

Mariappan was initially moved to Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur and now to Anamalai Tiger Reserve, where he was born. After 17 years of separation, he recently met his mother and has made many new elephant friends. The move is the result of a campaign led by local activist Radha Swami and assisted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India. Also indispensable was the work and cooperation of the Forest Department of Tamil Nadu.

Since 2002, temple authorities kept Mariappan chained by all four legs. He could not take even a single step in any direction. In January 2011, his shackles were finally removed and he was transported from the temple to a spacious compound at Arignar Anna Zoological Park. For the first time in many years, he was able to move about and enjoy the trees and fresh air before making the journey to his birthplace.

“The difference between Mariappan’s cruel confinement in chains at the temple and his new life of freedom, love and care is night and day”, says PETA India Director of Veterinary AffairsDr Manilal Valliyate. “Daily walking, mental stimulation and the company of other elephants are essential to an elephant’s mental and physical health, and we thank the Forest Department for seeing to it that Mariappan – who has suffered far more than any living being ever should – is now back home where he belongs.”

There is a growing scandal over the way in which elephants used in temples are typically kept. They are controlled through beatings and are prodded and gouged in sensitive areas behind their knees and ears with an ankus – a rod with a sharp iron hook on the end. They rarely receive enough food or water, and most of them never see a veterinarian, even when they are injured or ill. Elephants at temples also show signs of severe psychological distress such as swaying, head-bobbing or weaving – behaviour which is not found in healthy elephants in the wild. Also, lack of exercise and years spent standing in one position on hard surfaces amid one’s own waste can lead to painful and crippling foot ailments and arthritis in elephants.

Actions to relieve the suffering of Mariappan and three other ailing elephants housed in Sugavaneswarar Temple in Salem, Alagar Kovil in Madurai and Suchindram Temple in Kanyakumari were first initiated by the Tamil Nadu government in 2008. The government ordered that these four elephants be rehabilitated and sent to appropriate rescue centres where they can move about, stretch and exercise.

Like Mariappan, elephants at Alagar Kovil Temple and Suchindram Temple have been moved to the elephant camps under the care of the Forest Department. The elephant at the Salem Sugavaneswarar temple has not been moved and is still under the custody of the temple management. The government is now being strongly encouraged to take action quickly on behalf of other temple elephants in Tamil Nadu who need to be rescued and rehabilitated.

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