Once, a local ruler lived in the Punnathurkotta palace in the Thrissur District of Kerala. Situated at a distance of around 2 km from the Guruvayoor Sree Krishna Temple, the place now houses around 58 elephants that were “donated” to the temple by devotees.
The elephants are trained to participate in Hindu festivals at the camp. The oldest elephant at the Elephant Camp is Ramachandran, who is 82 years old.
In Kerala, it is a common Hindu custom to capture young elephants from the wild and ‘donate’ them to the deities at the temple. However, as per the Central Zoo Authority of India, one elephant in captivity must have a minimum of 1.25 acres. By housing 58 elephants in 11.5 acres, the temple is in serious violation of the norms.
The most famous elephant of the camp was Gajarajan Guruvayur Kesavan, who was donated by the royal family of Nilambur in 1912 and died in 1976. He was known to be devout in behavior and reportedly died facing the temple with his tusk up.
As far as animal rights groups are considered though, the Elephant Camp is a nightmare. There are just 8 sheds for the 58 elephants so most of them are exposed to the weather throughout the year. They reportedly stand around in their own feces and urine. Just three algae-filled tanks of water provide water to the elephants.
While devotees might be “donating” these elephants out of religious feelings, elephants are sentient beings and cannot be gifted around like this. If they were being well taken care of then maybe one could look in the other direction, but I doubt God is going to be happy about us enslaving his creatures.