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anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

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Norfolk, England...
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anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

Has anyone been? Are the elephants well cared for? Rough guides recommends it in my book.

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1. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

Hi,

I have been there; it is more an elephant shelter/home The animals appear to be very well looked after. There is an admission charge of approx. 200 rps and you can take an elephant ride through the village lanes for approx. 400rps. The money goes towards the upkeep of the elephants. The elephants also participate in various temple festivals.

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2. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

Thanks for the info, sounds good.

3. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

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4. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

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Berlin, Germany
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5. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

I went to see the village in January 2014 after reading those posts here.

I will only describe what I saw and it's up to you to form your own opinion.

There are 5-6 elephants chained to concrete posts with short chains on a concrete platform. Their caretakers approach them with sticks to enforce desired behaviour. The elephants sway from side to side (weaving*), which is a typical behaviour for those animals in captivity, when they are forced to stay long in a small space or they are separated from other elephants - you can see it most evidently in the 5 year old elephant chained away from other elephants,where he cannot have any physical contact with others, what is for those animals very important.

After what I saw I decided not to take an elephant ride. I considered donating money but since I was not sure it would be properly distributed - we did not receive any bill for the entrance fee in the first place and ware not asked to sign the guest book - I decided not to pay more than the one hundred rupees entrance per person.

*weaving - surrogate activity caused by boredom, frustration and desolation (www.upali.ch/stereotypicbehaviour_en.html)

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6. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

I have always thought the elephants were well looked after. I am not an elephant expert so cannot comment on certain behavioural displays. The men with "sticks" as you call them are not caretakers but well trained mahouts who know how to handle the elephants.

This is only my opinion based on what I have seen and limited knowledge about elephants and their mahouts.

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7. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

We went along to see the elephants. There were only 3 there (it is festival season). Charge: 100 rupees each (bring your own bananas to feed them).

Of the 3 elephants - one large bull elephant was tied up separately away from the other two females. Tied to a concrete post with no shelter from the noonday sun, he did not look like a contented animal to me - pacing the few steps he could take - is 'weaving'?

The other two elephants were also chained with little movement, one was pacing/weaving. At least we were allowed to feed these two bananas.

There was no communication at all - the mahout spoke no English. We left after a few minutes, none the wiser about anything there.

Dismal experience really.

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8. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

My personal experience with Travspire, Palmland Tours and the Anathavalam farm was excellent. My ultimate feelings about the day are mixed. I'll start from the top:

My guide, Suresh, was absolutely wonderful--engaging, warm, very knowledgable about not only the animals but their place in Keralan history, and honest about what the life of a festival elephant is like. He spoke fluent English and took me to two very cool hole-in-the-wall restaurants to and from the elephant farm that I never would have discovered on my own. All thumbs up for Suresh.

I'll get back to the farm itself. Before that, I think it's important to set the context of elephants in Kerala as a whole:

I don't do Sea World or circuses; I don't do zoos that don't have a conservation mandate. I was nervous about signing up for this tour. I asked Suresh about elephant treatment pretty much as soon as we got in the car. Here is what I gathered:

1) Elephants in Kerala are working animals. They are woven into the fabric of the zillion regional festivals held here. It's not just for the tourists, it's a part of the Keralan way of life. This has been the case for a very long time.

2) Suresh's point of view (as well as mine): Ideally, elephants are better off in the wild; they should be allowed to stay there. Due to the overpowering truth of point #1, that ideal isn't realistic. Not impossible, but not doable in the near term (People have tried: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/elephant-went-fury-and-killing-many-during-kerela-festival2007/1/156056.html). Part of the reason it's so hard is that we're not looking at a Sea World situation. Sea World doesn't have any of the social, religious, or historical significance that gives it the kind of permanence that Keralan festival cultural has. Plus, Sea World is categorically cruel--what I experienced was not.

The question, then, is how do we work with what we have? "What we have" = a world where elephants are in captivity.

3) Suresh works within that world. And he's thinking about stopping working in it. One of the reasons he yet to do so is that he found an elephant farm that treats the animals better than the other farms he's worked with and dropped due to poor conditions.

With that in mind, my review of the Anathavalam facility:

Likes

Tons of open space, run by a nice family, mahouts seemed like decent guys who cared about the animals, everyone's conversation and attention seems to revolve around the elephants, who are in the shade. I helped with the bath portion of the day, which was a nice ritual. The elephant I was with (Padmanabhan) was definitely a happy camper during that time. You can tell by behavioral cues like wrapping his trunk around one of his tusks. During the walk around the neighborhood everyone came out of their houses with fruit to give to Padmanabhan, who I can only describe as a local celebrity. It was a real honor to get to spend time with such an incredible animal. I was pretty smitten.

Ambivalents

When a male elephant is in "musthe," he's very hard (and dangerous) to be around. There are reports of bad owners doing bad things to elephants in order to suppress the musthe state instead of just riding it out (Read more about it in the article I linked to above--very cruel.). There was one elephant in musthe at Anathavalam. They chose the "ride it out" approach, which is better than the stuff referenced in that article, but it also involved heavy restriction of the elephant's movement--chained front and back to concrete pillars. There was a good amount of give in the chains, but he couldn't have turned around 360, for instance. I didn't like seeing this but at the same time, I don't know how else they would handle an elephant in that dangerous of a condition. He would snap out with his trunk at anyone who got too close, which can kill you.

Dislikes

Suresh says that there are two ways to keep an elephant in captivity: Tether them to a post or put them in a paddock. The three animals on the farm were tethered--taken out a lot for walks and baths... but still tethered. Sometimes restrictively if dangerous (see below), sometimes on a long lead, and sometimes with the front two feet attached by about 12 inches of chain in between (I really didn't get why this one was necessary). Building a paddock that an elephant can't get out of sounds difficult, but I would absolutely rather have seen these ones maintained that way than by chain. When not being walked or bathed, they're pretty much just standing there (in the shade, but still).

My final thought? The chance to get up close with these amazing amazing animals is magical. The appreciation I have for them was multiplied 10-fold after this trip. The money I spent on the tour went to people who will probably invest it--at least partiall--back into the elephants' quality of life, which is high compared to other elephants in Kerala. This is the wonderment that makes up half of my mixed feelings. The other half is sadness over the general state and concept of captive elephants in Kerala. I feel I supported a good place in the midst of a sad industry.

Edited: 02 March 2014, 23:50
9. Re: anathavalam elephant farm, puthenkulam, varkala

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