At Asia’s biggest cattle fair, man is the beast

Kept under abysmal conditions, animals at Sonepur fair are a picture of pity as officials turn a blind eye.

Sonepur, Biahr: Seven-year-old Anarkali wants to splash around in the waters of the Gandak river a little longer as darkness descends on Sonepur. The female elephant has had a long day at the Hariharkshetra Mela, as the month-long Sonepur cattle fair is officially called. She has had to stand all day at her stall, with her legs shackled, as prospective buyers came by to inspect her, poking and prodding. Her mahout often prised open her mouth to let people have a close look at her bright pink palate, considered a sign of good health.

Elephantine issue: Owner Mahendra Prasad with his elephant, mahout and a gunman at the fair in Bihar. Indranil Bhoumik / MintHowever, her plans of a long bath are cut short by her mahout, who stabs sharply into the back of her head with an ankush—a steel prod with two sharp ends, one straight and the other curved to look like a pirate’s grappling hook. Unhappy with her slow response, one of the mahout’s helpers on the ground hits her hind legs with a bamboo pole, sending Anarkali scurrying up the muddy slopes and back to her dusty enclosure.These are common sights at the cattle fair, arguably the biggest in Asia.

“The whole idea of such a fair is cruel,” says professor Jacob Cheeran, a Thrissur-based elephant expert and a veterinarian. Though ankush is not banned, it should be used only in situations where an elephant becomes uncontrollable. According to Suparna Ganguly, honorary vice-president of Bangalore-based Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, or Cupa, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960, using any spiked stick or any other sharp tackle or equipment which causes or is likely to cause bruises, swellings, abrasions or severe pain to the animal is forbidden. “However, due to the kind of unreasonable and inappropriate demands on the captive elephant, in terms of commands, making it stand for long hours without food or water, making it walk on crowded urban streets, makes it impossible for the mahouts to control an animal the size and weight of an elephant without inflicting torture on it,” says Ganguly.

An elephant has about 109 sensitive points on its body. “Jabbing these points can inflict severe pain on the animal. Most mahouts know these points,” says Ganguly. “By constant jabbing, the optic nerve can be impaired. Many elephants in Jaipur are blind due to this and the strong glare of the desert sun under which they are made to work,” she says. The cruelty to elephants does not stop with the use of ankush. At the stalls, these animals are shackled, sometimes on all four legs, with clamps that have spikes on the inside.

Reports: livemint

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