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 Indian 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.
India suspends visas for Canadians
India has suspended visa services for Canadian citizens amid an escalating row over the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil.
Visa service provider BLS posted a message from India’s mission blaming “operational reasons” for the decision.
Tensions flared this week after Canada said it was investigating “credible allegations” linking India with the murder of the separatist leader.
India angrily rejected the allegation calling it “absurd”.
Analysts say relations between the countries, which have been strained for months, are now at an all-time low.
The message about the suspension of visas was first posted on the BLS website on Thursday.
“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” it read.
India’s foreign ministry refused to comment on the matter and asked the BBC to refer to the BLS website.
The move comes a day after India issued an advisory urging its citizens travelling to or living in Canada to “exercise utmost caution” in view of the “growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada”.
Canada has 1.4 million people of Indian origin, making up 3.7% of the country’s population, according to the 2021 census. India also sends the highest number of international students to Canada – in 2022, they made up 40% of total overseas students at 320,000.
One in 10 people now aged 80 or older
For the first time ever, more than one in 10 people in Japan are now aged 80 or older.
National data also shows 29.1% of the 125 million population is aged 65 or older- a record.
Japan has one of the lowest birth-rates in the world and has long struggled with how to provide for its ageing population.
It has the world’s oldest population, measured by the proportion of people aged 65 or up, the United Nations says.
That proportion stands at 24.5% in Italy and 23.6% in Finland, which rank second and third respectively.
In Japan, those aged over 65 are expected to account for 34.8% of the population by 2040, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
The country’s elderly employment rate is among the highest across major economies – workers aged 65 or more make up more than 13% of the national workforce.
But this has done little to relieve the burden on the country’s social security spending.
Japan has approved a record budget for the next fiscal year, in part due to rising social security costs.
Efforts to boost its birth rates have also met with little success amid the growing cost of living, and notoriously long working hours.
Birth rates are slowing in many countries, including Japan’s neighbours, but the problem is particularly acute in Japan.
The country was estimated to have had fewer than 800,000 babies born last year – the lowest number since records began in the 19th century.
In the 1970s, that figure was more than two million.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in January that his country is on the brink of not being able to function as a society because of its declining birth rate.
However authorities remain hesitant about accepting migrant workers as a solution to falling fertility.
Other countries in Asia are facing similar demographic challenges.
Last year, China’s population fell for the first time since 1961, while South Korea has reported the lowest fertility rate in the world.
UK to ban American bully XL dogs
The British government has announced steps to outlaw the American bully XL by the end of the year.
The American bully XL is a popular breed that likely descended from pit bulls.
The ban was announced after a string of dog attacks that caused outrage on social media last week.
PM Rishi Sunak said it was clear the American XL bullies were “a danger to communities” and a ban was needed.
He added that experts and police will work together to “accurately define the breed” and powers will be used in the Dangerous Dogs Act.
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