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Renting an elephant in Kerala? Pay Rs 4.5 lakh a day!

March 10, 2014 14:12 IST

Renting an elephant in Kerala? Pay Rs 4.5 lakh a day!

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Reghu Balakrishnan in Mumbai

Demand-supply mismatch and diverse govt regulations have sent the price soaring for renting an elephant in Kerala.

Thechikottukavu Ramachandran is touching 50 and has a following that some of the top celluloid stars in his state, Kerala, would die for.

Look at the number of fan clubs he has all over the state. 

His charge is Rs 4.5 lakh a day, up three times from a couple of years earlier. His main job is to be caparisoned as part of the festive processions of temples in Kerala.

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Image: Thechikottukavu Ramachandran
Photographs: Courtesy, Facebook page

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At three metres and 14 cm, he is the tallest captive elephant in India, making him eligible for the honour of carrying the idol of the deity.  

Chirakkal Kalidasan or Pambadi Rajan aren’t as formidable a superstar but their earnings are quite decent – Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh. 

Excluding the transportation charge of Rs 25,000 that temple authorities have to pay. Clearly, the term ‘white elephant’ is Greek for the participants in this buoyant ‘elephant economy’.

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Image: An elephant carried the idol of the deity during a temple festival in Thrissur.


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Renting an elephant in Kerala? Pay Rs 4.5 lakh a day!

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The reason for these skyrocketing fees is simple -  acute demand-supply mismatch. Kerala has a shortage of new elephants, as “imports” from states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have remained banned since 2007 (following a petition by V K Venkatachalam, secretary of the Elephant Lovers’ Association).

Kerala was earlier totally dependent on the Hathi Bazar at Bihar’s Sonepur and the ban has led to a shortage of good quality elephants, those looking imposing enough for pleasing the gods.

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Image: Acute demand-supply mismatch of elephants.


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As sale and purchase of elephants are banned under the national wildlife protection laws, many owners have opted for leasing of these for 99 years, at an annual price of up to Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million).

After taking into account parameters such as height, length of tusk and trunk, shape of the ear, etc. The prices were exactly half a couple of years earlier. 

The economics work out well, as the daily maintenance cost is Rs 2,500. This is borne by the owners during the lean season, lasting six months.

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Image: Elephants during a temple festival.

Tags: Kerala

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Renting an elephant in Kerala? Pay Rs 4.5 lakh a day!

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In the remaining six months, the maintenance expenses are taken care of by temple committees. 

If the economy is doing well, can scams be far behind? For example, Venkatachalam says, a financial mafia is deeply rooted in Kerala for sale and renting of elephants.

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Image: Maintenance expenses are taken care of by temple committees.


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“Promissory notes worth Rs 2.5 crore (sale price) are pledged with chit firms or co-operative banks and the buyer gets about 40 per cent of the price as loan. This is  against the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regulations.” 

Venkatachalam says a new financial firm has been established in Trichur, an Elephant Owners Multipurpose Co-operative Society. 

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Image: Huge demand for elephants in Kerala.


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Renting an elephant in Kerala? Pay Rs 4.5 lakh a day!

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Their bylaws allow elephant owners to be given loans worth Rs 5 lakh, keeping the animal as collateral, though by RBI policy, anything not considered as wealth cannot be pledged as collateral. 

Sreekumar Arookutty, director and writer of  ‘E4 Elephant’, the popular Kerala TV series, says the temple committees are looking at reducing the number of elephants at festivals.

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Image: Temples are looking at reducing the number of elephants.


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The need for permissions from the forest department and liability in case one kills somebody are a dampener.

The latter is becoming serious; cases of elephants turning violent have been on the rise during the temple festival season.

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Image: Many elephants turn violent during the temple festival season.

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In the past two years, as many as 63 people have been killed by elephants during festivals in Kerala. 

The death of elephants following torture by mahouts is another reason for the animal’s rising demand.

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Image: 63 people have been killed by elephants.

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It appears six have already died since the onset of the festival season in 2014. The number was 36 in 2013. 

Cases of cruelty to elephants to squeeze in more money have also come to the fore.

Venkatachalam says middlemen force popular ones to work non-stop.


Image: A miserable life for elephants.


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