Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Jan 18, 2019 : For over 3000 years of shared history, elephants have been captured by humans and used as beasts of burden, and sometimes even as tools of war, as evident from the feat achieved by Hannibal Barca where he marched 38 elephants across the Alps into Italy during the second Punic war (~220 BC). These elephants were speculated to have been Asian elephants.
Asian elephants across their current distribution range, even today are maintained in captivity, and used to carry out a variety of work ranging from lugging felled timber to patrolling forests. Being highly intelligent and sentient, elephants require careful and compassionate handling to be able to make them carry out such work with ease. This invariably entails the employment of experienced elephant handlers or mahouts.
In Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Northern India, captive elephants have been long used for elephant rides for visitors, for patrolling the park, as well as for managing human-big cat conflicts. In recent times, the captive elephant population here has seen a boom, with 12 new elephants being brought in from Karnataka, taking the population to 23 elephants. With an increased number of captive elephants, the park authorities also employed therefore several new mahouts with little experience of handling elephants. There was therefore an imminent need to train these new mahouts.
On January 13 2019, a meeting was conducted with Shri. Mahaveer Koujalagi, Deputy Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, to sketch out a schedule for the training program, with inputs from Mr. Kuddus; Mr. Nazir and the senior mahouts of DTR. Subsequent to this, a personality improvement session for the participants was organised, consider in that the mahouts also cater as guides during elephant rides that cater to tourists from different strata of the society. During the training, the participants were coached on interaction skills with people while they take them on a ride.
On 14th January 2019, the training programme commenced following an inauguration by Shri. Ramesh Pandey, Field Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. He appreciated this initiative, and emphasised that such a training program was being organized for the first time for the mahouts and chara-cutters of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve by WTI, and requested WTI to organize more such programs in the future. This was then followed by a brief introduction given by all the mahouts and chara-cutters present for the training. The participants shared the problems they face during management of elephants with the senior guest mahouts and WTI team. A pre-evaluation test was conducted to assess the knowledge level of the participants so as to carry out the sessions accordingly.
As per the schedule decided for the training program, the participants were provided a copy of Hastiskisha manual, a compilation of commands in Kannada and Hindi (since many of the elephants were erstwhile living in Karnataka); practical sessions on management and housing; husbandry practices (bathing, food preparation etc); foot care and chip reading. Apart from this, a post evaluation test was also conducted on the last day to assess the increase in their knowledge regarding the management of elephants, followed by another personality improvement session by Mr. Prem Chandra Pandey.