September 25 2008

I just got a call from Hrmati dasi. She’s a German disciple of Srila Prabhupada who has lived in Mayapur now for the last decade or so. She’s quite a character. Apart from raising a multitude of kids by herself, living in a grass hut with her own bullocks and cows, she is also the person who was responsible for bringing our new elephant, Laxmipriya from Assam in March.

Laxmipriya in Mayapur

Laxmipriya is doing well. She’s growing nicely and is being trained for her future service of carrying the Deities of Chota Radha Madhava on Their Saturday night processions during the winter months.

Laxmipriya with the devotees

[see article: 14/new_elephant_packs_her_trunk_iskcon_mayapur ]

Now Hrmati is back up in Assam arranging to give a home here in Mayapur to another one. Why two? Because nowadays Indian laws are quite strict about elephant ownership. One of the rules is that you cannot have just one elephant, you have to have at least two. Otherwise they get very lonely and it reduces their life span considerably.

Every elephant in India is also supposed to be implanted with a microchip so that proper records can be kept. Failure to comply is supposed to result in confiscation.

In practice there are many elephants in the jungles of Assam that have not been implanted and due to various factors remain with their owners. According to the local officials its almost impossible to enforce this law.

The elephants are not wild, they are either forcibly retired animals thrown into inactivity due to the forcible shut down of the logging industry, or decendents thereof.

According to a report in 2006 by the Wildlife Health Unit (WHU) EcoSystems India:

The states of Northeast India, especially Assam, have a long history and tradition of domesticating elephants for timber logging operations. Of the total captive elephants (about 3,500) in the country, the Northeast accounts for over half the population (about 55%). Following a central government ban on uncontrolled tree-felling activities in the region in 1996, about 1,800 working elephants became burden upon their owners, as there were no alternative means of using the animals. Since then the condition of many of these creatures has deteriorated. Apart from the medical attention given to the animals by the owners in emergency situations, no attempt has been made by either government or non-government agencies to provide services for the elephant healthcare in Assam.

Their owners, poor tribals for the most part, are having a tough time. Whereas a working animal would earn them around Rs. 50,000 per month, an unemployed one is a Rs. 10,000 per month liability. Many owners allow the mahouts to take their charges out on the streets and its a common sight in Assam to see them blocking the traffic in order to solicit donations. These magnificent beasts have now been reduced to begging.

Its also not possible to sell them to new owners because elephants are a schedule 1 protected species. They cannot be bought, sold or even given away. On top of this well-meaning but misguided NGOs sometimes object to their being taken to homes outside the state even if the conditions are better. Thus the laws that stopped the logging in order to protect the forests have created a situation of gross neglect for the inhabitants, and the once proud pachyderms have become skinny, runted beasts that noone has any use for.

By good fortune our intended calf Visnupriya, who is about 3 years old, may well end up spending her days happily here in Mayapur. The process of transferring her to Mayapur to serve the Deities is going on and Hrmati had to go up there this week to make sure she is properly microchipped and the papers submitted.

Good job she did. The owner died since the last time she was there and his brother was attempting to file the papers under his own name. A friendly officer who has been assisting Hrmati to get through all the redtape realized the irregularity and they were able to catch it in time. Had they not, it would have caused big complications later on and lengthy delays. They sent for the deceased man’s son, the true owner, and the papers are now being correctly drawn up.

Another delay came when everyone started running for cover. Not due to a mad elephant but due to a report that some operatives of the notorious United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) terrorist group were in the near vicinity. Hrmati had to jump in a car and be taken out of the area for a couple of hours until things settled down again. Nothing is straight forward in India.

The microchip is implanted in the ear through a syringe. Its about the size of a grain of rice.

 elephant-microchip.jpg     syringe

That was done this afternoon and now the rest of the procedure can go ahead. Hrmati says Visnupriya is quite friendly. The officers remarked that out of all the elephants in the vicinity (there’s a batch headed out to Bihar soon) Visnupriya is notably calm and even tempered. At her age they can be a bit boisterous and difficult to handle. Even though she has grown up in the jungle Hrmati was able to approach her and feed her a few biscuits.

It will take some weeks to settle all the paperwork and Hrmati is hoping that by mid-December we should be able to bring Visnupriya to Mayapur for her new life in service to Sri Sri Radha Madhava.

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