Responding to a report published on the Sunday edition of the Daily Mail, on the alleged ill-treatment of temple elephants in Kerala, India, a wildlife photographer who accompanied the British reporter has written an open letter to the daily.
In "Tortured for tourists: Chained to the same spot for 20 years. Beaten into submission at secret jungle training camps. The terrible plight of Indian elephants", British journalist Liz Jones had claimed that temple elephants in Kerala are ill-treated at 'secret jungle training camps' at Guruvayur Temple in Thrissur, central Kerala.
Jones visited the elephant training camp along with the founder of non-government organisation Save The Asian Elephants (STAE), Duncan McNair, who had requested wildlife photographer Kalyan Varma to accompany them.
Varma, who accompanied team, slammed the reporter's claims. "I first met her in Bangalore. She seemed to have already made up her mind. Although she asked questions, she refused to accept the answers detailing what really happens at elephant training camps. The impression I had was that she had already constructed her story, and wanted evidence to back it up," Varma writes about Jones in the open letter.
In her article, Jones had claimed that as many as 57 Asian elephants were ill-treated at the camps, many of them chained for more than 20 to 35 years.
However, Varma refuted the journalist's version and said there aren't any secret camps in Kerala to train elephants. "She refers to 'secret camps' — they are not secret at all, just regular camps for captured elephants. Such elephants, just translocated from the wild, are in a transitional phase and the intent is to disturb them as little as possible — therefore, such camps are not meant for the lay tourist. Therein lies the "secrecy" Jones makes so much of," he writes.
Jones had also claimed that the animals were tortured during the training. But, Varma says that the team didn't witness any such incident. "The only thing she witnessed — I was there with her — was gentle handling of the elephants, where the mahouts were trying to get the elephants used to human touch. They rubbed the elephant with a plastic bottle, then one of them sat on the elephant for a bit, and then they fed the elephants. This is what she saw, and this is all she saw — she did not see any elephant being beaten and starved, as she writes."
Varma also writes about the kind of bond the mahouts and their children have with the elephants and said that the journalist, who lacks basic journalistic ethics, is just exaggerating.