A temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala has introduced a mechanical elephant to conduct its rituals.
The initiative by authorities at Irinjadappilly Sree Krishna Temple in Thrissur district is part of their pledge to stop using live animals for any festivities.
The model was donated by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India and actress Parvathy Thiruvothu.
They hoped this would help in holding events “in a cruelty-free manner”.
Chained, saddled and decorated, elephants play an important part in temple festivals in Kerala – the state is home to about a fifth of the country’s roughly 2,500 captive elephants.
For years, animal welfare activists have flagged concerns about their treatment. The Centre for Research on Animal Rights last week wrote to the state’s chief minister about the increased mortality of the mammal, saying 138 captive elephants had died in Kerala between 2018 and 2023.
In a statement issued on Monday, PETA said the that subjecting live elephants to extreme loud noises during festivals was “cruel” and urged all temples in the state to switch to lifelike mechanical elephants.
“It’s high time we made stronger and more impactful strides towards stopping such abuse and letting animals have respectful and dignified lives,” the organisation added.
According to the India Express newspaper, the elephant model donated by PETA is 11 ft (3.3m) tall, weighs 800 kg (1763.7 lbs) and is made of an iron frame.
Temple priest Rajkumar Namboothiri told the Indian Express newspaper that authorities were happy to receive the mechanical elephant.
“We hope other temples will also think about replacing elephants with robotic elephants for their rituals,” Mr Namboothiri said.