- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

From combined dispatches

NEW DELHI — India’s working elephants are to be fitted with reflective patches on their rears to prevent fender-bending road accidents that sometimes result in more than a damaged trunk.

The Wildlife Trust of India introduced the reflectors this week to help drivers spot the working pachyderms at night in the Indian capital.

“The butt reflector, roped to the [seat], costs just [$2] and is the simplest way to protect them,” trust Program Director Aniruddha Mookerjee told Reuters news agency.

Working elephants are often used at weddings, festivals and by the tourist industry and often have to walk long distances along the city’s chaotic, congested roads.

The trust took the safety initiative after an elephant was severely hurt by a speeding truck last December. The elephant was put to sleep after veterinarians said it could not recover.

“You could see tears streaming from its eyes as it lay in pain. You can’t have elephants being hit by cars and trucks,” Mr. Mookerjee said, adding the trust planned to introduce the reflectors for elephants in other cities as well.

Meanwhile, elephants employed by the southern state of Kerala will get full retirement benefits at age 65, the state’s forest minister said yesterday.

“We are taking a serious note of growing cruelty toward captive elephants and their violent reaction to their human captors,” K. Sudhakaran told the legislative assembly in Trivandrum.

“The Kerala government has issued norms for the upkeep of elephants, which among other things insist that elephants retire from work at the age of 65 years,” Agence France-Presse quoted Mr. Sudhakaran as saying.

The retired elephants would receive a good “menu, health care and living conditions,” he added. “The elephants will also be entitled to checkups by vets.”

Kerala’s retirement policy will not apply to elephants working in private enterprises such as circuses, which have some of the worst conditions.

An estimated 33,000 elephants are left in India — a quarter of their 19th-century population — and many are put to work in construction, logging, security patrols and other businesses.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has accused Indian state governments of routinely exploiting elephants.

“Elephants live for more than 70 years if left unmolested in the forest, yet their average life span in captivity is reduced to 14 miserable years,” said Anuradha Sawhney, the head of PETA India.

“Imagine what it must be like for highly intelligent, social and sensitive beings like elephants to be ordered about constantly under the threat of a beating with a [hook] at every moment of their lives,” Miss Sawhney told Agence France-Presse.

In January, an elephant working in the forest department in the Kerala city of Cochin killed his keeper-trainer, known as a mahout.

At least 42 persons have been killed or injured by elephants in India in the past five years.

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