Coimbatore: Lakshmi and Ramalakshmi have been friends for the past four years. They first met in Thekkampatti, near Mettupalayam, when they were brought for a rejuvenation camp. While Lakshmi comes from Tayumana Swamy Temple in Trichy, Ramalakshmi is from Ramanatha Swami Temple in Rameswaram. Holding trunks and playing with each other, they grabbed the attention of the shutterbugs and the public alike at the special rejuvenation camp for temple elephants at Thekkampatti near Mettupalayam on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, ministers Dindigul C Srinivasan and Sevvoor S Ramachandran inaugurated the camp, the 10th such one to be organised in the state. Legislators Amman K Arjunan, P R G Arun Kumar and O K Chinnaraj, and district collector T N Hariharan were present at the function. Forest minister Dindigul Srinivasan said the camp was organised at a cost of Rs1,50,79,000. “All the elephants in the camp are females. They will be given nutritious food and medicines,” he said.
The elephants were decked up and made to stand in a parade for the inaugural function. The ministers fed them with apples, pineapples, jaggery and sugarcane. However, later they were seen in their usual self tearing and feasting on palm and coconut shoots and sprinkling dust over themselves.
A total of 33 elephants have been brought to the rejuvenation camp that almost looked like a reunion camp for most of them. “The elephants feel at home at the camp, as they get to see and interact with their kind,” say mahouts. Abirami from Thirukadavur, Gomathi from Sankarankovil and Bhuma from Oppiliyappan Kovil also have bonded with each other over the years. “We always station them near each other in the camp,” says 23-year-old Venkatesh, who has been training as a mahout for Abirami for the past eight years.
The camp location is surrounded by wooded hillocks. And with Bhavani River flowing nearby, the camp is a welcome change for the temple elephants, which otherwise stand on stone or cement floors all day. “Back in the temple, it will be tied under a roof all day and will be taken out only for walks and processions. But here it gets to be in a natural environment,” says 43-year-old mahout Gajendran, pointing to Masini, the Samayapuram Temple elephant that he tends. Masini was palpably happy as it waved its trunk in joy.
This is the very idea of the camp, says Dr S Thirukumaran, assistant director of animal husbandry and the team head of veterinarians at the camp. “Animals come here to be in their natural habitat,” he says. He adds that it is a rejuvenation camp and not a health camp. “Before we bring the elephants, we ensure that they are vaccinated against anthrax and dewormed. We check their weight when they enter the camp and when they leave,” he says.
According to Dr Thirukumaran, they prepare a diet chart for each elephant based on its age, sex and weight. “Animals which are over-weight will lose around 300kg, while underweight animals will gain 200kg-300kg after the camp,” he says.
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