Following a rigorous three-month campaign, which saw A-list celebrities, including Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson, join tens of thousands of people in calling for the release of an elephant from a temple in India, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) UK can confirm today that Sunder will soon be freed and on his way to a better life. Thanks to an order just issued by Forest Minister Dr Patangrao Shripatrao Kadam, the 13-year-old elephant, who has been kept chained inside a dark shed at Jyotiba Temple in the Indian district of Maharashtra for seven years, is to be moved from the temple and rehabilitated at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre near Bangalore.
Sunder, a prisoner of the temple since 2005, has a hole in his ear caused by an ankus – an iron rod with a hook at the end – in addition to scars all over his body and a severely injured eye that’s probably the result of a beating. Two weeks ago, Sunder became violent and uncontrollable in response to the abuse that he has suffered at the hands of his mahout (or handler) and temple authorities, tearing down a pillar and trying to flee his captors. He was subdued and returned to his life in chains.
“The difference between Sunder’s cruel life in chains at the temple and his new journey to freedom, love and care is like night and day”, says PETA UK Associate Director Mimi Bekhechi. “Daily walks and mental stimulation are essential to an elephant’s mental and physical health. Lack of exercise and years spent standing in one position on hard surfaces amid their own waste often lead to painful and crippling foot ailments and arthritis. We are grateful to the Forest Minister for agreeing to liberate Sunder and let him enjoy things that are natural and important to him for the first time in his life.”
The abuse of Sunder highlights the growing scandal over the way elephants used in Indian temples to represent the Hindu god Ganesha are being housed and mistreated. Frequently controlled through beatings and prodded and gouged in sensitive areas behind their knees and ears, they often languish without veterinary care and are fed unsuitable food. Many elephants at Indian temples also show signs of severe psychological distress – such as swaying, head-bobbing and weaving – behaviour not found in healthy elephants in their natural habitats.
A copy of the Maharashtra Forest Minister’s order is available upon request. For more information about animals in captivity, please visit PETA.org.uk.