Elephant rehab centre in Kerala reels under COVID-19 impact

23 Forest personnel including 15 mahouts are among those who tested positive

The raging COVID-19 spread has begun to take a toll on the residents of the Forest department-run elephant rehabilitation centre in Kottoor, situated on the foothills of the Western Ghats.

While the rural areas of Thiruvananthapuram district witnessed an intense transmission of the virus, it could be for the first time that the centre and adjoining parts of the Kuttichal grama panchayat faced a spread of considerable magnitude.

As many as 23 Forest personnel including 15 mahouts are among those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in tests conducted last week. The situation has left the remaining 19 mahouts and two cleaners with the task of attending to the 17 captive elephants at the centre.

One of those infected, N.V. Satheesan, who retired as the deputy warden of Agasthyavanam Biological Park on Monday, said the routine activities of the elephants took a hit. Normally, each elephant would be assigned two mahouts at the centre. But now, two elephants—79-year-old Soman, the oldest captive elephant in the State, and nine-year-old Rana—have been facing the absence of all their mahouts, while most others faced the temporary loss of at least a mahout.

Under the circumstances, the elephants were being bathed by their handlers only once a day in the Neyyar river, while Soman and Rana were being cleaned in their tethering sheds by other ‘unfamiliar’ mahouts. Besides, their weekly parade that attracted visitors to the centre has been suspended for the time being.

The Forest Department was yet to decide on subjecting the elephants to COVID-19 tests. Nonetheless, official sources said that they were mulling the possibility of collecting swab samples, considering these animals had come in close proximity with the infected persons.

Kottoor ward member A. Nizar said while some of the infected mahouts had been quarantined at the centre, others were being monitored in COVID-19 care centres at Kuttichal, Amboori and Neyyar dam. One of them was hospitalised in a city hospital with mild symptoms.

They were among over 40 people who tested positive during an RT-PCR testing camp conducted last Friday. These included four migrant workers, who were involved in the KIIFB-funded expansion of the elephant rehabilitation centre, and three members of the eco-development committee (EDC). The other infected were people who resided nearby.

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