One may expect a substantial reduction in the number of
privately owned elephants in the northeast unless logging
operations are legally resumed. A similar reduction may be
expected in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar if the landlords no
longer find it viable to maintain elephants without sufficient
economic returns. But elsewhere in India private ownership
of elephants appears to have stabilised. There is fair
scope for hoteliers and tourist organizations to utilize
domesticated elephants in well-known tourist locations in
southern and western India as is the case in Rajasthan.
Not all domesticated elephants in India get veterinary care.
The zoo elephants and SFD elephants fare the best. All
major zoos in India have at least one full-time veterinarian.
Major National Parks and Sanctuaries in India also have
full-time veterinary doctors. But most of these veterinary
doctors are officers of the Veterinary (Livestock)
Departments sent on deputation to the Forest
Departments or the zoos for a fixed period. They join as
novices, gain experience and return to their parent
department before contributing anything meaningful. But
some of the zoo doctors with long experience with captive
elephants have contributed a lot to veterinary science and
have published papers and articles relevant to elephants.
Forest authorities in most of the National Parks and
Sanctuaries receive help from the Veterinary Departments
in arranging the immunisation of livestock in the fringe
areas - a legal requirement under the WPA-1972. In many
other Protected Areas, NGOs also arrange veterinary
support for the immunisation of livestock.
In most of the districts having captive elephants, local
veterinary doctors are called upon to treat sick elephants.
They are also summoned to help the owners to control bad
tempered elephants, particularly loose tuskers in musth.
Needless to say, most of the veterinary doctors are not
well prepared to deal with these cases. However, in States
like Assam and Kerala, which have substantial populations
of captive elephants, there are some private veterinary
practitioners with sufficient experience of dealing with
elephants. Care of domesticated elephants is not covered
in the syllabi of most of the veterinary colleges and only a
few colleges send their students for internships in a zoo or
a Protected Area having captive elephants. Two notable
exceptions are Kerala Agriculture University, Trichur and
the College of Veterinary Sciences, Khanapara (Guwahati)
that have research and teaching programmes relevant to
captive elephants. Kerala Agricultural University also
organizes workshops and refresher courses on captive
elephant management for veterinary doctors.
Tranquillising equipment and good laboratories are not
available in most district towns having elephants. This
often creates complications. There have been cases in
West Bengal when the local veterinary doctors identified
anthrax as the cause of death of some elephants, but
detailed laboratory tests showed that this was not so.
There also have been cases in India when as a result of
the absence of tranquillizing guns some problematic
tuskers have had to be shot dead rather than simply
tranquillized. In remote villages in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and
the northeastern States, veterinary help is rare and
elephant keepers depend on kaviraj (practitioners of
traditional medicine), ‘quacks' or their own knowledge. In
Kerala, some kaviraj are in great demand by elephant
owners. Some practitioners also use homeopathic
medicines to treat sick elephants. However, the present
generation of elephant owners and mahouts in India
generally shows a preference for modern rather than
traditional veterinary treatment.
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