The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lost & found, a jumbo pet
- Software engineer in custody battle for ‘family’ elephant

Bangalore, March 15: She was sold to captivity and tortured for months before being rescued by activists. Now a young man from her family has arrived to take the 20-year-old home.

The problem is, those taking care of Vanashree ' or Mahalakshmi, as her family calls her ' are reluctant to hand her back.

What does she herself want' It’s a pity Vanashree can’t speak.

The custody battle kicked off when Haresh Babu arrived from Chennai with what was, for a visiting software engineer, a rather unusual quest in Bangalore.

He wanted back his “family elephant”, Mahalakshmi, whom his father had sold to a circus while Haresh had been away from the family’s farm in Madurai, southern Tamil Nadu.

The request had the Karnataka forest department, now taking care of the calf, shaking its head.

Vanashree is in no condition to be moved out of her current home, the Bannerghatta National Park on Bangalore’s outskirts, a senior forest official told The Telegraph. “She will take at least six to eight months more to recover.”

“She was brought here in a bad shape. The street-side circus would beat the poor animal for not performing tricks,” said Sharath Babu of the People for Animals (PFA) who rescued the underfed, sick animal from Hoskote, 30 km from here, and shifted her to the park.

“As she was given very little food, she had taken to eating glass bottles, plastic cups or anything else she could lay her trunks on.”

At the park, Vanashree is the apple of everyone’s eye, with the veterinarians, caretakers and visitors lavishing attention on her.

“No, no, she can’t be moved,” Sharath said with an air of finality. “She has slowly got back to walking, but cannot walk or stand for long periods.”

But the techie is not so easily beaten.

Haresh, who claims he has been searching for his beloved Mahalakshmi for months, has arrived with a bundle of documents proving ownership and has convinced a local court to give him possession of the elephant.

He vows that she would never suffer again and is willing to reimburse the park the Rs 40,000 it spent on her treatment. That would roughly equal Mahalakshmi’s food bill for a month ' feeding an elephant costs about Rs 1,000-1,500 a day.

Haresh says it’s a family tradition to keep elephants. That is rather unusual in Tamil Nadu, though the practice is common in neighbouring Kerala. Such elephants are usually hired out during temple festivals and, sometimes, to lug timber. Aristocratic families consider having an elephant in the forecourt a status symbol.

During temple festivals, the daily charge of hiring an elephant of average size comes to about Rs 5,000 while the big ones can cost up to Rs 20,000 a day.

During the recent zilla panchayat polls in Hoskote, the Janata Dal (Secular) had hired Mahalakshmi from the circus for its campaign.

Local animal lovers have no doubt that their Vanashree is better off where she is. Within 24 hours of Haresh’s arrival, the elephant has suddenly found a whole new band of friends here who have vowed to block her journey to Tamil Nadu.

“The court should have asked the park’s vets for a certificate on Vanashree’s health before passing an order,” a park official grumbled.

Haresh, on the other hand, has been trying to meet as many officials as he can to get Mahalakshmi back to where, he feels, she belongs.

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