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New fitness regime for elephants in Konni camp



New fitness regime for elephants in Konni camp

An elephant at the Konni training camp lifting timber as part of a revamped fitness session.
| Photo Credit: LEJU KAMAL

“Edathiyaane,” the mahout attempts to assert his authority. In elephant lingo, it means left. But Kochayyappan pays no heed. He has spotted some succulent branches and does not care that he is in the middle of a fitness session.

The mahouts at the Konni elephant training camp are breaking a sweat trying to coax the three-and-a-half-year-old pachyderm to walk some distance. Despite all their attempts, he seems uninterested. Kochayyappan, for the most part, is chilling out, but his trainers are not discouraged.

Five in all

All five elephants at the training camp, which is also a major tourist attraction, are now undergoing a strict fitness regime involving hours of walking and timber lifting. The move aims at improving the fitness levels of these animals, which usually stand idle for hours amidst a long line of visitors. One of the camp residents, 30-year-old Neelakandan, died in April due to a digestive disorder.

Anil Kumar R., Deputy Range Forest Officer in charge of the training centre, says lack of exercise leads to shorter lifespan for such elephants than those in the wild. Physical workouts can increase longevity, especially among older adults.

While the animals perform exercises, forest officials watch their movements and check for troubling spots or rashes on their bodies. To allocate more time for the elephants to work out, the camp will now remain closed to visitors on Mondays.

“The morning walk starts around 6.30 a.m. and continues till around 9.30 a.m. Over time, the elephants have progressed to more advanced workouts, including lifting timbers every Monday. Until a decade ago, the elephants here were deployed in government-run timber units and stayed fit due to the hard physical work involved,” says the official.

Elephant safari

Meanwhile, the department is exploring the possibility of resuming elephant safari for visitors, which was stopped a few years ago following a government order. “The mahouts have started giving primary training in this regard, although we are not sure if we will get permission,” says Mr. Anil Kumar.

Relocation plans

Senior forest officials say the introduction of the fitness regime for elephants is part of a plan to relocate the training camp to a location abutting the Kummannoor forests in Pathanamthitta. “Although the management area of the new centre will be 500 hectares, the elephants will actually get a much wider area inside the forests to live in. This will ensure them access to diverse foliage and the river and do a lot of good for their overall well-being,” says Ayush Kumar Kori, Divisional Forest Officer of Konni.

According to him, the proposal to shift the elephant centre to Kummannoor gained fresh momentum following the death of Neelakandan in April. “The incident has shown how critical access to natural forests is in the social life of elephants,” he says.

The elephant camp at Konni, operated by the Kerala Forest department, houses five elephants — Kochayyappan, Krishna, Priyadarshini, Evea, and Meena. Kochayyappan, who was rescued from the Angamoozhy forests when he was only a few months old, is the youngest among them.

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