The elephant ambassadors of Karnataka

Bhaskara, at the Sakrebylu camp, being moved reluctantly for a new role.   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU

In a twist in the saga of human-animal conflict, animals captured in one part of the country are helping protect forests in other areas.

Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh, which had just 13 elephants to patrol the vast terai, recently imported 10 from Karnataka. Three more elephants will join a proposed elephant camp in Jharkhand’s Palamu Tiger Reserve. Uttarakhand, among the first to import elephants — nine have been working in Corbett Tiger Reserve since 2016 — wants 16 more: six for Rajaji Tiger Reserve and 10 for Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary. “We don’t have permission or trained personnel who can capture wild elephants and train them,” says Digvijay Khati, Chief Wildlife Warden. “In Karnataka, they have a system and were willing to donate.” Inquiries have also come from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Largest population

Karnataka, which has the largest elephant population in the country, captures and confines elephants in conflict with humans. Called Kumki elephants, they are tamed and trained in forest camps, and are now in demand in other States, for patrolling duties in forest reserves. Their ‘export’ also helps Karnataka, reducing the burden on its camps.

Their popularity, says Punati Sridhar, Karnataka’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, “is due to a combination of our elephant camp infrastructure and traditional mahouts.” The state has a tradition of training wild pachyderms: folklore has it that the Jenu Kuruba tribes excelled at it, supplying elephants to the Chola and Pallava kings. Tipu Sultan institutionalised the practice three centuries ago. “Mahouts here have grown up with elephants,” says Vinay S., veterinarian at the Sakrebylu forest camp. “They understand the elephant and its needs.”

The journeys to their new homes have not affected the animals; they have also adapted well to different climates. One problem, though: the elephants only understand Kannada.

Dudhwa’s forest officers, like many government officials from north India, plan to propagate Hindi. Mahavir Kaujlagi, deputy director, says. “Elephants are smart creatures and much of the commands are actions. Teaching them Hindi can be done.” But A.K. Mishra, divisional forest officer at the Palamu reserve, says, “It is easier to make the mahouts learn Kannada commands.”

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2022 2:11:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/kannadas-elephant-ambassadors/article24146877.ece

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