Ele­phant cam­paigner is un­masked

The Oban Times - - News - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­times.co.uk

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.

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