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Not advisable to raise all abandoned/orphaned elephant calves in captivity, T.N. forest dept. tells Madras High Court

The Tamil Nadu forest department has told the Madras High Court that it is not advisable to raise all abandoned elephant calves in captivity and let them into the wild only after they attain adulthood because the human imprint will make it difficult for them to reintegrate in the wild.

In a counter affidavit filed before a Division Bench of Justices N. Sathish Kumar and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy, the department said, it believes in reintegrating the abandoned calves with their own herds or other herds and only in compelling circumstances, they could be raised in captivity.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden Srinivas Ramachandran Reddy said, as many as 15 elephant calves had been either abandoned/orphaned in the last three years but the forest department had successfully reunited nine of them with the herds in the wild.

Only six of the 15 calves were taken to the forest department camps and four of them died because they were sick and lacked immunity. The PCCF-cum-CWC said, at present, the forest department raises as many as 67 elephants in captivity with excellent facilities and veterinary care.

The Teppakkadu elephant camp in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the Kozhikamuthi camp in Anamalai Tiger Reserve were being upgraded to provide the most modern amenities to take care of the elephants in semi wild conditions in which they could even mate and breed.

A handbook on managment of captive elephants in Tamil Nadu and Standard Operating Procedures on orphaned elephant calf management had also been prepared by the Advanced Institute of Wildlife Conservation (Research, Training and Education) of the forest department, the PCCF said.

Nevertheless, advocating against the plea of animal activist S. Murlidharan to raise all abandoned elephant calves in captivity until they attain adulthood, the officer said, the calves reunited with the herds in the wild had a better chance of survival than those kept in captivity.

“Elephants are social animals and hence require physical touch and presence of herd members. The same physical contact is provided by trained mahouts to reassure and relieve the stress in abandoned calves. Human imprinting on such calves can affect their ability to live independently in the wild,” he added.

The officer went on to state: “The close relationships that the orphaned elephant calves develop with their human caretakers can make it more difficult for them to reintegrate into wild elephant populations.”

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