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Kumki Cheran goes blind after negligent handler injures its eye

A kumki elephant at Theppakadu camp in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) has reportedly become fully blind after it lost its vision even in the one eye with which it was managing due to an ‘unintentional’ act of negligence by its ‘kaavadi’ (mahouts’ assistant) in The Nilgiris.

Kumki Cheran goes blind after negligent handler injures its eye
The injured eye of kumki Cheran


Cheran, a 35-year-old kumki, was already suffering from vision loss in his right eye due to some infection and was entirely managing with the vision from the other eye. But now the animal has lost sight in its left eye too following an injury inflicted by its handler. The animal, an expert kumki, has so far been involved in numerous operations to capture and drive away wild elephants. Joseph Hoover, a wildlife activist from Karnataka said that Cheran’s mahout Ravi had informally given over the task of tending the elephant to an outsider, who was not in the payrolls of the Forest Department. However, the Forest Department stoutly refused that the ‘kaavadi’ was an outsider.

“It’s mahout was on leave and the elephant was handled by kaavadi Murugan who is also a permanent employee. It is a false accusation that a proxy to the mahout has been allowed to take care of the elephant,” said Field Director of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve KK Kaushal. Further, the official said that Cheran was injured in his left eye while being bathed by Murugan on May 17. “After enquiry, disciplinary action has been taken against Murugan and further strict action will also be taken. Also the injured eye of the elephant is being treated by a team of specialists to help the animal get back its sight. The extent of damage and level of loss in eyesight is being studied. We are also saddened and shattered by the incident,” he added.

Meanwhile, Joseph Hoover, who is also a Member, State Board for Wildlife in Karnataka said that the elephant may have lost its sight completely as its pupil in the eye remains totally damaged due to the injury. He had, in a petition urged the state government, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and Project Elephant calling for a thorough enquiry into the incident. When asked about the possibility of a cataract growth, Hoover told DT Next that it was an injury and claims that if it had been a cataract then the entire eye would have been affected. “Ideally, the Ministry of Environment should form an expert committee to study the condition of elephants, mahouts and kaavadis at every elephant camp in India. They should also visit these camps to get on-ground assessment of the prevailing conditions,” he said in the petition. “The injury to the elephant was caused when the kaavadi hit the animal with a stick to make it obey his command while bathing it. The Forest Department has sought an explanation from him regarding the incident. Further action will be taken against him based on his explanation,” said Gudalur Forest Ranger M Dayanandhan.

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