Clockwise from top: A mahout feeds an elephant at the Sakrebailu Elephant Camp
SAKAREBAILU: As you enter the elephant camp, you hear the elephants making ‘trunk calls’ to their mahouts or some blowing their own trumpets! Then there are giant tuskers from the wild but now tamed ambling away peacefully while many captive breeding mothers with their young ones relaxing in the backwaters of Tunga. And the roly-poly and mischievous baby elephants coming even closer to fondle the visitors with their trunks.
Tucked away on the Shivamogga-Tirthahalli Road, this is one of the oldest camps in India for rehabilitating and training elephants. The Sakrebailu Elephant Camp was set up in 1965.
Swashed with monsoon rains, the lush green environs of Sakrebailu forests on the banks of Tunga River have provided a home for many abused, conflict and captive elephants in Karnataka.
Presently, the camp is hosting 22 resident elephants and there is still space for some more. Eleven are tuskers while the rest females --- of which Geeta (75) is the eldest. There are nine calves born to captive mothers here. There are three more elephants but left alone in the wild.
Tending Sharada which was captured in Sirsi Forests, Mohammad Dastagir says that she is now gentle and friendly. Out of the seven captured in Hassan district, Kunti from Sakleshpur is still settling down. Two months back, four elephants from this camp were sent to UP.Some temple elephants too are residents here -- a temporary stay as they have come here to recover from their individual health problems. If Udupi Mutt has sent Subadra, there are two more from Davangere and Jalahalli.
Forest officials say, “The Udupi mutt authorities have been providing funds for her medicine and food for the last six months once its foot problem is resolved, she will go back to the mutt. We have 28-30-year-old Somanna who was captured in Alur in December las and later brought here. In the last six months, we got three elephants from various places.”
The camp maintains a record of each and every elephant that comes here either for rehabilitation or training. Presently, out of three conflict elephants, training is going on for two of them. With the camp spread across 4,500 hectares of forests, the free moving animals are almost in an environment that is perfect for them except the chains and the beatings from their mahouts during training sessions.
Shivkumar, camp in-charge, DRFO, Sakrebailu Wildlife Range, Gajanur, says, “With the entry of every new resident, each and every detail of the animal is kept by tracking and studying them. Each elephant’s height, weight, footprint and other parameters are measured. This is necessary for training as the behaviour of each animal differs depending on its age, health issues, whether it has come from a temple or from a conflict zone.”
When the free moving jumbos are brought to the camp first, they show their aggression openly and demonstrate their wild behaviour. It takes them three months to cool down. It takes a year for an elephant to be trained, say camp officials. For instance, Sagar (captured in Sagar taluk), Ganga and Geetha have been trained so thoroughly that now they are into carrying Dasara ambari at Shivamogga. Balanna who was captured on December 25 had killed four-to-five people in Channagiri and is now undergoing training.
The upkeep of these residents comes to about Rs 4-5 lakh per month, says the camp in-charge. The camp receives annual funding from the state forest department with the cost of maintaining an elephant going up to `3-4 lakh per year. Each elephant has two staffers - mahout and kavadi - looking after them. The camp has 19 mahouts (some part-timers) and 10 kavadis.
This is a unique camp in India as visitors are allowed for three hours every day to see and interact and also study the behaviour of elephants. Every weekend, thousands of visitors pour into the camp which is open from 8 to 11.30am for an entry fee of Rs 30. People get an opportunity to touch the elephants, bathe and brush them and take a short ride on them. You can never get enough of these magnificent creatures.