Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: The Elephant Whisperers

Watched this heartwarming documentary in OTT platform this evening. Surprised to see that its based in Mudumalai Tiger Sanctuary, right in Tamil Nadu, India. Mudumalai has an impressive population of Indian wildlife ranging from tigers and elephants to exotic birds in rich bio diversity. Been here but spotted the pachyderms in the shoulder areas adjoining the reserve forests over the protected sanctuary. Mudumalai meets Periyar Tiger reserve and Parambikulam tiger reserve of Kerala over the western ghats and driving to either side from one of the two could prove lucky for wildlife spotting – that I have fortunately done but unfortunately missed any worthwhile wildlife spotting. In fact, even the Bannerghatta reserve in Karnataka adjoins the three wildlife sanctuaries from south over the ghats. Makes for an interesting geographical territory.

Even if captive elephants bother me, I am not blind to the role of the mahouts in our society, especially Hindu, where the elephants are culturally cared for, accorded the divine status. We are raised to revere elephant like god. Most ancient and well funded Hindu temples in the south own elephants. Kerala temples typically own dozens each. Mahouts therefore become indispensable with their rare elephant rearing acumen garnered over generations. Pictures have been made earlier on the bonhomie that the mahouts share with their pet elephants. Elephants exhibit humanlike emotions as they are generally social creatures that live in complex societies comprising interesting family trees. Elephants also akin to the blue whales that roam the oceans, transmit low frequency vibrations and their broadcast can be heard over a distance of hundreds of miles – that makes the two species most intelligent almost at par with the homosapiens on earth. So that’s why, an orphan elephant calf can be a heart wrenching sight to some of us. Even if man=elephant conflicts are on rise in India, our tribals still enjoy holistic relationships with wildlife especially the elephants. Their communication channels are unique and they build bonds that are familylike.

Forest department is now doing a good job rehabilitating lost or orphaned elephant calves after rescuing them when they may be accidentally left behind or willfully abandoned by their herds. Its not easy to return the calves used to human presence to where and who with they belong. This is a tremendous feat and I am heartened to see Bomman and Belle doing just that with Belle becoming first woman in Tamil Nadu history to successfully rear two infant elephant calves and returning them to the wild. Tribals in India live in close contact with our wild life. They share a delicate balance in nature that has to be maintained at any cost so that both the parties stand to lose nothing. Increased encroachments are a threat to wildlife and forest reserves whereas wild animals foraging for food in the villages poses grave dangers to human settlements along elephant corridors. Its a big challenge that has to be acknowledged and tackled with careful study.

Hopefully documentaries such as these win global awards raising awareness. When I watch young female elephants in our temples such as Thirukadaiyur, Thirunallar, Kumbakonam etc., an indescribable ache clutches my heart and I end up question myself, if this is the point of elephant rescue missions. The degree of domestication of wild elephants has never been this acute as more and more of the gentle giants are captured and tamed for religious purposes in India. Mercifully, the circuses employing wild life ended long back in India.

The documentary is a feast to eyes bringing to our view some parts of the Mudumalai reserve that may not be accessible to public. The glimpse into tribal life is also appreciated. Serene and peaceful life in the woods, in the lap of nature, in the company of wild life. What more can one ask for. What a gifted life and what a rich lifestyle. The infant elephant calves Raghu and Ammu’s home among the Nilgiris that they shared with the tribal couple is a far cry from today’s mad and crazy materialistic world. May their tribe increase and may India forever be blessed with rich flora and fauna that are the most precious gifts from Mother Earth.

Mahouts in India are increasingly viewed as cruel men. A handful of them could be so. Most however look upon the elephants under their care like their own children. India is again a rare country where one’s occupation being an elephant mahout is considered normal and regular!

Fortunate to have visited a couple of forest reserves in the south. Blessed to have spotted wild elephants although never within wildlife sanctuaries but always along the shoulder belt. It shows, what we define as elephant corridors are man made. Elephants do not oblige the geographic lines drawn by man and forest department. As the forest cover shrinks in India, the wild elephants are more and more spotted along human settlements.

Thoughtful picture that did not go around a temple mahout. For a change, the plot of the story was on a mahout working with forest department stationed within the range of forest reserves. To make a film like this and to focus on wild elephants of India, you have to have a different heart. I see you, director!