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Menu change for captive elephants in Kerala

K.S. Sudhi

KOCHI: Kerala's captive elephants will soon get green and fresh grass to chew on instead of palm leaves which are taking a toll on their health.

The forest department is planning to introduce dietary changes for the animals to bring them closer to natural food. Palm leaves will be gradually replaced by fodder and a pilot project for correcting their food and nutritional content will begin at Guruvayur Devaswom shortly.

Experts say that captive elephants in the State are perhaps the only ones in the world suffering from impaction of the colon (Erandakettu in local parlance) due to eating palm leaves. The ailment is resulting in their premature death.

The forest department plans to grow fodder on land available with it and inside forest area. The planting of fodder near watering holes inside forests will support the wild elephant population by providing them food and ensuring drinking water, said State Minister of Environment and Forests K.B. Ganeshkumar.

It will also help check crop raids by wild elephants. Tall grass, popularly known as Aanapullu, can be grown on all available land, he said.

The College of Forestry under the Kerala Agricultural University has proposed to take up a pilot study of the nutrition, health and scientific management of the captive elephants at Guruvayur Devaswom for six months. Two groups of elephants in different age groups will be fed fodder and palm leaves and their dietary issues will be studied, said P.O. Nameer, Head of the Wildlife Division of the University.

There are around 900 captive elephants in Kerala. They are traditionally fed palm leaves, Careota or coconut. Elephants are primarily grazers and feed mostly on grasses and bamboo leaves. In the wild, they feed on more than 50 species of plants.

The department plans to introduce the dietary changes in a phased manner and discussions will be held with the stakeholders, including elephant owners. The issue was also discussed with the administrator of the Guruvayur Devaswom, said Mr. Ganeshkumar, who also owns an elephant.

A meeting involving four Ministers and officials will be convened to discuss the modalities of implementation of the scheme, he said.

Replacing palm leaves with fodder is good for the animal and economical too, said Dr. Nameer.

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