Elephant whisperers continue mission in Tamil Nadu

‘The Elephant Whisperers’ is about tribal couple Bomman and Belli fostering an orphaned baby elephant Raghu in the Theppakadu elephant camp.

Published: 14th March 2023 06:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th March 2023 02:41 PM   |  A+A-

The Elephant Whisperers, Bomman and Bellie

Bomman and Bellie with an orphaned elephant calf. (Photo | Express)

Express News Service

DHARMAPURI/CHENNAI: While ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ was winning an Oscar, thousands of kilometres away one of the film’s main characters, 52-year-old elephant mahout K Bomman, was on a
mission to protect three abandoned elephant calves in Dharmapuri. 

‘The Elephant Whisperers’ is about tribal couple Bomman and Belli fostering an orphaned baby elephant Raghu in the Theppakadu elephant camp. The film, released on Netflix in December, captures the bond between the couple and the calf.

While fans of the film celebrated, Bomman, as part of a team, was busy monitoring the movement of the two elephant calves orphaned after their parents were electrocuted recently. The same team is also trying to integrate an abandoned six-month-old baby elephant with a herd. Speaking to TNIE, Bomman said he hadn’t known what an Oscar award was till now. 

“Only with all these back-to-back calls and messages have I understood that our documentary is being talked about worldwide,” he said. “I never expected such an honour but the news makes us extremely happy. All this happened due to the efforts of the forest department. I dedicate this victory to the staff working with elephants.” 

‘The unsung heroes of elephant protection’

For Bomman, there is no life without elephants. He inherited his skills from his father Kunjan, a mahout who worked closely with the forest department in elephant rescue and training. In 1984, Bomman was appointed to the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Since then he and his wife Belli have been caring for elephants.

Recalling how the film was shot before the Covid-19 lockdown, Bomman said, “They captured our day-to-day affairs and the time we spent taking care of Raghu and Ammu. It was a beautiful journey. I have not spoken to the makers yet. But when they return, I wish to offer them a token of love for their big victory. The calves are hale and healthy in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve,” he said.

Belli, speaking to reporters at Nilgiris, said, “I have reared many such elephants, treated them like my own children, looking after them as a foster mother (valarppu thaai). This is in our blood, as our ancestors were also working like this,” she said, adding that the community sees it as an act of service. Chief Wildlife Warden Srinivas R Reddy told TNIE that people like Bomman and Belli are the unsung heroes who toil for the protection of elephants.

“I am happy that the two orphaned calves which Bomman and other members are tracking now, are managing to forage by themselves.  The need to capture and shift them to an elephant camp has been ruled out. One elephant is four years old and the other is close to three years old. So, they can manage, but our ground teams will keep tracking them. Now, the challenge is to find a herd for the six-month-old baby elephant left behind by the mother in Dharmapuri. Bomman and team are on the job,” he said.

Environment secretary Supriya Sahu said, “We have hit a hat-trick with the Malasar tribesmen of Anamalai hills winning the first Gaj Gaurav Award, two snake catchers getting the Padma Shri and now this Oscar.”

In a tweet, CM Stalin congratulated director Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga. “No better news to wake up to than two women bringing the first-ever Oscar for an Indian production. The patient making & the moving story of #TheElephantWhisperers deserve all the praises & accolades it’s getting,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Nilgiris Adivasi Welfare Association Secretary Alwas termed the award as a recognition to the traditional profession of the tribals.

(with inputs from Chandhini R @Chennai & agencies)


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