The Madras High Court’s connection to Ammu from ‘The Elephant Whisperers’

The female elephant calf, separated from its herd, was handed over to mahout Bomman and his wife Bellie, featured in the documentary, after Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and N. Seshasayee ordered that utmost care must be bestowed to bring it up

March 14, 2023 02:58 pm | Updated March 16, 2023 11:48 pm IST - CHENNAI

A screenshot of Ammu, from the Academy Award winning Netflix documentary ‘The Elephant Whisperers’

A screenshot of Ammu, from the Academy Award winning Netflix documentary ‘The Elephant Whisperers’

Admirers of Academy Award winning ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ may not disagree that Ammu, a three-month-old female elephant calf, is the cutest character in the 40-minute Netflix documentary. Director Kartiki Gonsalves, introduces the little one, after 20 minutes, with whimsical music playing in the background and the pachyderm goes on to steal the hearts of the viewers: in part, thanks to the Madras High Court.

It was on October 24, 2019 that Justices M. Sathyanarayanan (since retired) and N. Seshasayee of the Madras High Court had ordered that “utmost care must be bestowed” to bring up Ammukutty alias Ammu alias Bommi “in a safe manner.” Disposing of a case filed by activist S. Muralidharan, the judges had directed the Forest Department to ensure periodical monitoring with respect to the health condition of the elephant calf.

Ammu had got separated from her herd at the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve (STR), and could not be reunited, despite the best efforts of the Forest Department officials. It was then that the case was filed in the High Court to restrain the Department from making any further attempt to let the calf into the forest. The litigant insisted that the pachyderm should be brought up either in a zoo or in any of the elephant camps administered by the Department.

When the High Court called for the remarks of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), the latter told the court that Ammu could not be reunited with her mother/natal herd despite efforts, and that any further attempt might endanger her life.

Therefore, he had taken the decision to move the calf to a camp, after considering the opinion of elephant expert Ajay Desai (since deceased), and a report submitted by the Deputy Director of the Sathyamangalam forest division.

The PCCF produced before the court, a copy of the proceedings issued by him on October 23, 2019 for transporting Ammu from STR in Erode district to the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) elephant camp, which lies in the Nilgiris biosphere landscape, for her further upkeep and maintenance. Further, the PCCF had instructed the Field Director of MTR to make necessary arrangements for the upkeep of the elephant calf in a safe manner.

After recording the PCCF’s submissions, the High Court had disposed of the case with a direction to bestow utmost care in bringing up Ammu.

It was pursuant to these proceedings that she was handed over to mahout Bomman and his wife Bellie since they had a track record of having brought up well, a male elephant calf named Raghu. The documentary portrays how Raghu was highly possessive of the couple and was initially unable to accept them sharing their love with Ammu until both the calves developed a camaraderie, only to be separated soon.

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