Temple elephants chill out at Thekkampatti camp

From eight-year-old Masini from the Samayapuram temple who is coming to temple elephant rejuvenation camp for the first time to 49-year-old Sivakami, from Tirupathur who has not missed the camp so far, 32 elephants have come for the 9th annual temple elephant rejuvenation camp that began at Thekkampatti near Mettupalayam.
Jumbos’ daily schedule
Jumbos’ daily schedule


Political instability in the state kept ministers and elected representatives away from the inauguration. This year, the pet project of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, will be conducted only for 30 days against the customary 48 days on the banks of River Bhavani. 
Organisers and the crowd were puzzled when 21-year-old jumbo Sornavalli from Kalayarkoil in Sivaganga district charged at 49-year-old Sivagami from Tirupathur in the same district. But, their mahouts were pretty relaxed knowing what was going to happen next. 
“They are elated to meet their friend after a year,” Sivagami’s mahout S Velraj said. The jumbos cuddled each other and played for a while. They ensured that they were tied close to each other.  Young elephants like Deivanai (8) of Subramaniaswami Temple, Tiruparankundram, were too happy to be close to their natural habitat. 
Earlier, Commissioner of the HR&CE Department M Veerashanmugamani inaugurated the camp by feeding the elephants with fruits. Talking to DTNext, he said that the programme is the brainchild of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Drought, heat shorten annual camp by 18 days
The 9th annual rejuvenation camp for temple elephants will be conducted only for 30 days instead of the 48 days as in the past. Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department officials cite drought conditions and likely onset of early summer as reasons for shortening the camp duration.
However, Commissioner of HR&CE M Veerashanmugamani, who inaugurated the camp did not spell out the reason for the delay in conducting the camp, which lead to reduction in the number of days.  He added that seven aged and ill temple elephants could not make it to the camp and will be given the same care and feed by veterinarians and HR&CE department personnel in the temples. 
A senior HR&CE official told DTNext that this is not the first time the camp is being conducted for 30 days. The first camp held at Theppakadu in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in 2003 was conducted for 30 days only. 
“It was increased to 48 days from the second camp in 2004 as it would help the jumbos relax better. It has been 48 days till last year and reduced this time due to practical difficulties, such as the fast approaching summer and drought,” he added. 
However, mahouts are not happy with the reduced number of days. They appealed to the organisers to start the camp early from the next year. “It should begin in November or December and conducted for 48 days. Officials should also ensure enough food for our pachyderms. Early conclusion of the camp will upset our elephants. Jumbos only know that it is very hot this time and not the number of days,” said a mahout on condition of anonymity.   
“We are trying to help the elephants beat the heat and get rejuvenated,” Animal Husbandry department additional director S Thirukumaran said.
Meet Lakshmi, mouth-organ playing rock star
By M K Ananth
She is a celebrity among the elephants as she enjoys playing a mouth-organ and dancing to the tunes, which makes the jumbos near her to join in. Meet Lakshmi, the talented and hyperactive 16-year jumbo of the Rettai Tirupathi Temple at Srivaikundam in Thoothukudi.
Lakshmi was two-years-old when she was bought by a Tamil Nadu-based corporate company in Sri Lanka and shipped to the state in 2002. When she was donated to the temple at Srivaikundam, R Balan was appointed as mahout to take care of the beautiful calf. 
Since then, Lakshmi and Balan share a unique relationship. Balan said that he tried to keep the hyperactive calf occupied as she was landing in trouble. “She used to run into vehicles parked at the temple as she did not know what to do after the one hour she spent at the temple pooja. I tried teaching her silambam. But, she broke 10 sticks in a week. She also damaged many footballs. She was eight-years-old when I bought a mouth-organ and blew it,” he said.
The little jumbo first placed the instrument on her mouth for the heck of imitating her best friend. “She tried to blow the instrument, but failed. However, she took an avid interest in it and kept trying. She learnt to blow the mouth-organ the same evening. Since then, she plays the instrument for an hour every afternoon,” said the proud mahout.  
Lakshmi is also protective of Balan. Six-years-ago she hit the watchman of the temple fatally for quarrelling with Balan. “I requested the watchman not to fight with me in front of the calf. But he did not listen. One day when he patted her trunk when I was away, she hit him fatally,” recalled Balan. “We both came clean after rounds of police inquiries,” he added.
Lakshmi plays the mouth-organ as her mahout Balan looks on 
4-tier security to prevent wild jumbos
As three wild elephants tried to enter the rejuvenation camp site for temple jumbos on Wednesday night, officials provided four-tier protection for the camp. Two layers of hanging solar fence were hung on trees around the camp. An alarm system has been set up to alert the officials in case wild elephants managed to cross the solar fence. Six watch towers have been erected around the camp to monitor the movement of wild elephants.

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