The mahouts are tribals born in Kozhikamuthi in Topslip, Pollachi, where an elephant training camp is functioning

Sharon, a 14-month-old orphaned elephant calf, quietly walks behind four-year-old Lavanya. When she says ‘stop', the calf obeys her and returns to the shed where three other calves are housed.

Lavanya and Nandhini, who is also four, are the children of mahouts Rajan and Arumugam, who take care of the calves, along with their wives, Vennila and Prema. The women also play a key role in rearing the calves. The calves go to sleep only when the women pat them after providing supper, says Mr. Rajan.

P.L. Ananthasamy, Chief Conservator of Forests and Vandalur zoo director, said: “The emotional bond between calves and the women handlers is very crucial, which helped the calves to survive even at the time of distress.”

The other three calves include Narasimha, Urigam and Giri.

They have been rescued from different forest divisions in the State and sent to the zoo for rehabilitation.

Sharon is from Sathyamangalam Forest Division, Narasimha from Narasapuram forests in Coimbatore Forest Division, Urigam from Thali Range and Giri from Javalagiri Range of Hosur Forest Division, Mr. Ananthasamy said.

The calves' day begins early in the morning with a bath followed by feeding, which included Lactogen II, tender coconut water and glucose.

Then the older calves, Sharon and Narasimha, go around the zoo. Back in the shed, they again have a wash.

The calves are provided feed every two hours. All four calves are kept in the exhibit area for one-and-half hours each in the morning and evening every day. Water is sprayed on them as the day temperature rises, Mr. Ananthasamy said.

Rajan and Arumugam are tribals born in Kozhikamuthi in Topslip, Pollachi, where an elephant training camp is functioning. So, handling the calves is as easy as raising children for the two families.

At present the Union government provides funds for this kind of unusual work. If the State government also provides more funds, better care and a separate rehabilitation centre for orphaned calves could be created.

This is essential because more and more calves stray away from their herds and are rescued by the Wildlife officials in the State, said a senior officer of the wildlife wing.