Elephant campaigner is unmasked
Many people will have been mystified over the past six weeks to see someone wearing an elephant mask sitting silently in random spots throughout the region. The Oban Times can now reveal who it is and what their campaign is all about.
MANY people may have been mystified over the last six weeks to see someone wearing an elephant mask, sitting silently in random spots throughout the region – Oban, Connel, Appin, Crianlarich and Fort William – in all weathers, holding a placard reading ‘Kerala Suffering Elephants’.
Drivers and pedestrians alike have been doing double takes, questioning whether they have seen correctly – Was that an elephant? Who is that? Are there elephants suffering on Kerrera?’
Well, finally, following a tip- off, The Oban Times has managed to unmask the West Coast’s undercover elephant protestor.
She is Kay Lang, a 45-yearold South African who lives in Dunbeg. Kay, a podiatrist and palliative care worker, was stirred into elephantine action a year ago when she stumbled on the Kerala Suffering Elephants Facebook page, which is ‘dedicated to spreading awareness about the atrocities meted out to the captive elephants in Kerala’.
Kerala, unlike Kerrera, is a state in southern India which is home to 700 elephants owned by Hindu temples and individuals as feudal status symbols, which are leased for up to $5,000 a day to process and carry a deity in Kerala’s 10,000 annual religious festivals.
But campaigners such as Kay are reporting cases of cruelty by the ‘mahouts’, the elephant riders, trainers or keepers.
Wild elephants are caught and tamed in ‘training camps’ where they are shackled, beaten and starved to induce fear in human beings, and break their spirit, Kay explained. ‘ The mahouts say they treat them like Gods, but they do not,’ she continued. ‘How can you love an elephant when you treat them so appallingly?’
Control of these ‘ very intelligent and sensitive’ animals is kept by stabbing them in the head, mouth or inner ear with hooked rods, blinding them temporarily, and hobbling their legs with spiked chains, creating festering sores. As a result the elephants can turn aggressive.
Kay said: ‘They are so stressed they go on the rampage and can kill or maim people. But it’s nothing to do with the elephants: it’s the abuse and corruption.
‘An elephant mafia runs these elephants. The backhanders in government mean they turn a blind eye. When you’re talking millions and millions at stake, it’s really difficult to change anything.’
For a week in April this year, Kay visited Kerala, going undercover with a camera to document the abuses, joining the ‘die-hard people who bring the cause to light, take photos, bring back stories, and raise calls to action’.
Kay continued: ‘I’ve been campaigning so much, I needed to see if the cruelty and suffer- ing is as bad as I was told, and I can tell you it is a million times worse. It was depressing to see they did not care.
‘Kerala’s main source of income is tourism and until it impacts on tourism nothing will be done.’
The aim of Kay’s simple stunt is to raise awareness for the cause – successfully some would argue.
‘People are drawn to the fact it’s an elephant,’ she said: ‘How many elephants do you see in Oban? I really wanted to get the message out, rather than the person behind it.’
Every time she had a spare hour, Kay dons the elephant mask. But she also plans to help raise funds to create a database registering every captive elephant in Kerala, and also to buy land for a sanctuary.
‘ We just want to rescue them, take them out of chains, feed and wash them, and start proper eco-tourism,’ she said.
Kay hopes to start a local business, too, selling her own coconut and chilli condiment, a ‘ versatile food’ to spread in sandwiches or fill a baked potato, to contribute to the cause.
‘It would be nice if there’s a market and people support it,’ she said. ‘I’ll do anything for the elephants.’
Kay Lang unmasked. The palliative care worker has been staging silent protests against the cruelty to elephants in Kerala, India.