Artificial robot elephant debuts in south India to prevent animal cruelty during festivals

Animal rights activists have welcomed the debut of an artificial elephant, made of fibre and plastic, in religious festivals in Kerala, south India.

Activists have long opposed use of real elephants in festivals saying the animals are tortured to make them pliable.

Though artificial behemoths have been tried earlier as well, they failed to become popular as they looked fake.

But the new elephant, made by Praveen Kumar of Kollam looks real and is drawing crowds, as seen in this demo filmed on February 22. It is carefully sculpted and modelled after a celebrity local elephant, Thrikkadavoor Sivaraju.

Though artificial, it does not come cheap and costs as much as 15,000 rupees (160 GBP) per day to hire, about 10,000 rupees (107 GBP) less than the real animal.

“The real benefit would be in ease of use and crowd safety,” said a temple official.

The artificial elephant is mounted on a pedestal and can only shake its head and body. But manufacturers plan to make a model that can walk as well next year.

Animal rights activists have documented widespread abuse of captive elephants in Kerala. As they are a major draw during religious festivals, elephants are transported from one venue to another without a break.

During off festival season, they are deployed in forests to lift logs and do other heavy lifting work.

Many are malnourished due to lack of proper diet and suffer from health problems.

Activists said 33 captive elephants died in 2018 in Kerala, many due to ill treatment.