LUCKNOW: Punga, Parvati and Kaveri, aged between four years and two and a half, had a problem. Not only were they suddenly being made to work for a living, they also had to learn a new language.
After years of running free in the forest reserves of Karnataka, the three young elephants were among 11 pachyderms shifted to Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur district in May. Their job: to patrol the massive park, with new mahouts who spoke a different language.
That was when forest officials decided to give them a crash course in Hindi. “We started using Hindi words along with Kannada and eventually stopped using Kannada. The elephants took a week to switch over from Kannada to Hindi commands,” said one of the mahouts who went to the tiger reserves in Karnataka to observe these elephants and get friendly with them before they were shifted. While the young ones learnt fast, it took some time for the elders in the herd to get used to the new surroundings and language. Mahouts and trainers from Karnataka came with elephants and stayed in Dudhwa briefly to help with the transition and translation.
Mahouts use a language handed down from generations to communicate with their elephants. Some commands are similar in both languages, like ‘tire’ which means lie down.
The elephants now live in Bhira depot of the reserve within a fenced area, which has proper drainage and a restroom for staff. A female Trisha (27) is the oldest in the herd while Nakul and Bhaskar are the only two males. They were brought to Dudhwa on May 5 and would undergo training till September 5 after which the forest department will decide to keep them in different parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
SPEAKING IN TONGUES
“When an elephant is told to turn around, the command in Kannada is ‘sarad’ but ‘chaeghum’ in Hindi. To tell the elephant to move back we say ‘hat peechhe’ while in Kannada it is ‘dhak peechhe,” said a mahout.