Today, after hearing from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India about the plight of a young elephant who has been beaten and is kept in chains, former Beatle Paul McCartney broke from rehearsals for his performance at the London Olympics to send an urgent letter to Indian Forest Minister Dr Patangrao Shripatrao Kadam.
The music legend, who first visited India in 1966, called on the minister to use his power immediately to rescue the little elephant, named Sunder, from Jyotiba Temple in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra and move him to a forested sanctuary.
"I have seen photographs of young Sunder, the elephant kept alone in a shed at Jyotiba Temple and put in chains with spikes", wrote McCartney. "Years of his life have been ruined by keeping him and abusing him in this way and enough is enough. I most respectfully call on you … to get Sunder out."
McCartney's plea follows PETA India's discovery that Sunder was being abused by his handler (or mahout), who has gone on the run from police since the group became involved. Sunder has sustained a severe injury to his right eye from being jabbed in it with an ankus (a sharp, hooked metal poker-like weapon) by the boy handler. The elephant is also confined to chains with sharp spikes and is kept alone inside a dark shed, in which he cannot even take a single step in any direction. Sunder is denied all that is natural and important to him and lives in fear. There are lesions all over his body, indicating past beatings by the handler. The elephant was donated to the temple by Maharashtra Member of the Legislative Assembly Vinay Kore.
A scandal is growing over the way some elephants used in Indian temples to represent the Hindu god Ganesha are being housed and mistreated. Frequently controlled through beatings and prodded and gouged in sensitive areas behind their knees and ears with an ankus, they languish without veterinary care for even serious conditions, sustain leg injuries and are fed unsuitable food. Many elephants at Indian temples also show signs of severe psychological distress, such as swaying, head-bobbing or weaving – behaviour not found in healthy elephants in nature. The lack of exercise and the years spent standing in one position on hard concrete amid their own waste lead to painful and crippling foot ailments and arthritis.
Photographs of Sunder are available here, here and here. Paul McCartney's letter is available here. For more information about the treatment of animals in captivity, please visit PETA.org.uk.