Kerala Suffering Elephants, a Facebook page, posted this image of a mahout recently killed by his elephant, once again pointing out what a dangerous career it is.
As you will see in “Elephants in the Coffee,” mahouts are a critical element of the government’s strategy to reduced conflicts between elephants and agriculture. When a dangerous elephant is removed from the forest, a mahout is expected to care for that elephant for the rest of its life – as many as 70 or 80 years.
This death of a mahout raises the question of whether the current strategy is merely shifting the risk. Certainly workers in coffee plantations are at risk from elephants, but so are the mahouts and their families who care for the captive elephants.
Here is what Kerala Suffering Elephants wrote:
“ONE MORE HUMAN DEATH IN KERALA. Mahout Kadali Babu was attacked by this elephant Mullackal Balakrishnan who has a history of killings during the Diwali festival at Thuravur, Alleppey. He had been admitted to the Kottayam Medical College Hospital on 1st November in a critical condition and succumbed to the injuries this morning. Balakrishnan has killed his mahouts before - in 1999, 2004 and 2010 and a woman in 2009. How many more deaths of mahouts and public will it take for people to see that elephants do not belong in the cities.”
The writer has a different view of mahouts that we have, and continues:
“While we do not justify the profession of elephant handling/ mahouts and captivity, we request people not to abuse his memory - he leaves behind a bereaved family, and we do not know the conditions which have forced him into this profession. The Mahouts themselves are a victim of this trade - starting out young, going through abuse like elephants, they remain trapped. Very few get out and start fresh, because of the lack of a system to help them. We, like all of you, want all of this to end and will continue to fight for the elephants.”
I think more highly of the mahouts, particularly the ones we have seen working in elephant camps. They seem to care deeply about the elephants, even though they are greatly underpaid and forced to live in impoverished conditions.
And as you’ll see in ‘Elephants in the Coffee,’ I don’t know how the government could manage elephants without mahouts.
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College