India elephant blessings 'to stop' due to health risk
Forest officials in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have asked temple custodians to stop their elephants from blessing Hindu pilgrims.
Their concern is that the practice could be damaging the more than 50 elephants kept in Hindu temples.
The elephants are routinely forced to touch the heads of pilgrims with their trunks as a form of blessing.
But officials say the practice could be putting the animals at risk of tuberculosis.
They say the constant exposure to as many as 500pilgrims a day may be putting the elephants at risk of contracting diseases, including tuberculosis.
In recent years, four temple elephants have died after contracting tuberculosis.
A spokesman for the department in charge of temples says it will comply with the request.
But one right-wing Hindu group responded by saying there should be more discussion before a decision was made.
Some animal rights groups have been lobbying for a long time for a total ban on temple elephants.
They say elephants are very social and intelligent animals and should not be forcibly isolated.