Risk of sedentary life harmful for elephants

 If you think diseases that result from a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy food habits are only a human problem, you are wrong. There seems to be an elephantine dimension to them as well.

According to veterinarians in Kerala, a vast majority of captive elephants have problems which are the result of an easy lifestyle and unhealthy food habits. Though the vets are yet to conduct any survey on diseases among the domesticated pachyderms, they say that approximately 50 per cent of the elephants they treat have lifestyle-related problems.

According to the statistics of the state government, Kerala has around 900 captive elephants, a majority of which are used for temple and church rituals across the state.
Movement is an integral part in the life of wild elephants. On an average, the wild elephants move for about 18 hours per day, Dr P B Giridas, one of the leading veterinarians in the state, who specialises in elephants told Deccan Herald. A captive elephant does not move around for even half that time, he observed.

While wild elephants consume fresh grass, shrubs, wild fruit and large quantities of water, the captive elephants are fed palm leaves, rice, beaten rice and jaggery, coconuts and dates. Many of these elephants are also given protein supplements to enhance their health, said Giridas. He commented that the fat rich food being given to the elephants is leading to fat deposits in their body which in turn leads to health complications.

According to him, one of the most common health problems faced by the jumbos due to their sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy food is impaction of the colon (called Erandakettu in Malayalam). The disease is fatal on many occasions.

Earlier, captive elephants were made to walk the long distances between destinations during the season of temple festivals, but now they are transported by lorry. During the long walks they used to have in the past, the elephants were allowed to rest during the hot noon. These leisurely walks with ample rest in between used to have a positive impact on the elephants.

   Giridas noted that elephants need huge quantities of fresh water to maintain the water in their bodies, but they dislike chlorinated water. When given chlorinated water, the elephants often refuse it, which results in low water content in the body, which leads to health risks. Meanwhile, the Guruvayoor Devaswom, which owns a unique elephant sanatorium and more than 50 captive elephants, has taken up an ambitious project to replace palm leaves with specially grown fodder grass to ensure their healthy food habits.

Giridas said, it is high time that elephant owners and mahouts realised the importance of providing a healthy diet coupled with ample exercise to ensure health of pachyderms.

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