Far from awards glamour, elephant whisperers move on

March 14, 2023 12:00 am | Updated 05:42 am IST - Chennai

More than the pleasure of the Oscar award, Bellie’s heart is filled with the pain of separation of the elephant calves she took care of. Bomman is now taking care of two orphaned elephant calves after the mothers were electrocuted by the illegal electrical fencing of a farm.



After the Oscar for Best Documentary Short was announced for ‘ The Elephant Whisperers ’ in a glitzy ceremony, far away in Los Angeles, U.S., the director Kartiki Gonsalves thanked on that podium, Bomman and Bellie for sharing their tribal vision that helped her make the movie. A moment of glory for the Kattunayakar tribe of the Western Ghats and their traditional wisdom.

The documentary revolves around a family who adopts two orphan baby elephants in Tamil Nadu’s Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and rears them. The two human protagonists of the film, mentioned on the world stage — Bomman and Bellie — however, have moved on from the Theppakadu sanctuary.

Bomman is now taking care of two elephant calves in Dharmapuri, also in Western Tamil Nadu, orphaned when the mothers were electrocuted by the illegal electrical fencing of a farm there, quite like the elephant Raghu in the documentary. Unlike him, his wife Bellie is not a permanent staff of the Forest Department, so she no longer takes care of the elephants she helped raise.

Bomman was inside the Palacodde forest in Dharmapuri on a mission to track the two elephant calves (on the Orders of the Madras High Court) and unite them with a herd or shift them to the safety of the Theppakadu elephant camp in Mudumalai in the Nilgiris district.

Bomman says he heard about the award on WhatsApp. “What can I say, I want to thank the two elephant calves and Kartiki, what else do I know?,” he says. ‘ The Elephant Whisperers ’ opens to the curly mane framing Bomman’s profile, with him declaring himself as ‘Kattunayakkan’ (King of the Forests).

“We have to find them [the elephant calves]. I’m worried about the little one,” he says, his worry reminding us of his loving chide of Raghu, in the documentary, for losing his bell in the river, the bell that would lead Bomman to his elephant-son, in case he is lost in the forest. “How will I find you if you lose your bell,” he asks Raghu. His wife Bellie is worried too, though for a different reason. She had a tearful union with the two calves in the film — Raghu and Bommie — after the announcement of the award.

While she is happy, that on one hand, the elephants she raised are the source of international attention, she adds, tearfully: “How can I be fully happy when my elephants are no longer with me?”

Bellie says that she feels sorry for Bommie, the younger elephant. “Raghu is a boy. He will somehow make it on his own, but Bommie... poor thing, she’s still so young and deserves the best of care,” she said.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.