The Diligent Guardians of the Vanishing Art of Mahout of Ganesh


As Asian elephants face a heap of dangers to their reality, the 4,000 year former connection among people and elephants is in emergency. Along the Himalayan borderlands, hostage elephants and their mahout guardians are existing together on the edges of the cutting edge period, with no simple answers or arrangements. 


Surya, a gigantic Asian elephant tusker, can hear Faridul, his slender, mild-mannered mahout of more than 14 years, well before he enters the single path that breezes into the secured woods at this public park in North Bengal, India. 

They welcome each other with a peaceful knowing, stroke of hand, sway of tail. Surya bows to the ground and persistently holds up as Faridul makes an agile move up the rump, choosing his wide back. The sun gets through the mists and the two breeze their direction, getting together with different elephants and men getting back from night watch. 

A thin twisting way through thick vegetation, the consistent tree shade covers from an abrupt delicate downpour. Downpour drops on fat leaves, branches breaking underneath, the intermittent delicate calls of the mahouts: Meil, Meil, to move their charges along. Stirring overhead as trunks ascend to cull leaves en route. Trudging feet, slow and conscious. 

They advance to the pilkana—or elephant cover—simply backs away from the unnatural stuff house that fills in as an arrangement place for excursions and watches through the recreation center. The structure is developed on pilings with rooftop shades to ensure against the weighty rains and flooding during rainstorm season. 

It contains all the mahout elephant devices, hardware, feed, and clinical supplies. A few single room homes structure a semi-circle, opening out into a verdant yard inside a short distance from both the arranging and hardware building and the pilkana. 

Senior mahouts, watch officials, and their families live here. Encircled by backwoods on three sides and a short stroll to the Murti waterway, this is the headquarters for the six elephants and twelve mahouts that work collectively for the West Bengal Forest Department. 

Elephants, ponies, camels, bulls, canines, donkeys… Throughout numerous centuries, people have fostered a perplexing collaboration with specific astute, four-legged creatures: a dependence on each other that has, at its root, the gathering of both of our most essential requirements: food and sanctuary. 

A sensitive equilibrium of concurrence, these connections can be full of control and remorselessness, while in innumerable others there is a trade of adoration and profound fondness. Regularly, both; and consistently in a relationship. 

Human and creature accomplices have constructed domains together, voyaged closed landscape, fought off foes, matched up to earn enough to pay the rent, and helped those that need mental, passionate or actual help. 

Similarly as wild ponies have been caught and prepared for equestrians as accomplices in game or display, and for cowhands to deal with farms and rangelands, wild Asian elephants have been caught and prepared in India to work close by people for millennia. By and large, elephants have been objects of love and function, weapons of war, and workers of the logging business. 

Today, contemporary hostage elephants keep on shipping their human guardians through blocked scenes, going about as significant accomplices for natural life preservation and woodland insurance.

For over a century Forest Departments in India have employed elephants and mahouts for use in conservation and as a strategy to help mitigate the human-elephant conflict. Each elephant requires two full-time caretakers, a mahout and his apprentice—called the patawala—to meet their needs.

The traditional wisdom of mahout, passed down for generations within tight communities, involves deep and direct study of elephant behavior, knowledge of forest-grown medicines, meticulous attention to care and feeding, and a rich tradition of lullabies and soothing melodies.

As modern conservation laws in India have recently banned capturing and selling wild elephants, elephants used for logging, and most private ownership, economic opportunities for mahout families have significantly dwindled. Mahout families have been forced to seek other work and are no longer teaching the next generation of mahouts. 

Consequently, the Forest Department, one of the only entities that rely on captive elephants and take in orphans throughout India, are finding themselves in a crisis. As their need for experienced mahouts increases, those who hold the indigenous wisdom are becoming few and far between. 

Despite new mahout hires going through an in-depth training program, they often lack the generational wisdom and nuance that comes from being raised among elephants. 

Many elephants working for the Forest Department were originally found orphaned, without their herd, starving and displaced. And while that helps explain why they are here, it does not make the fact that initial training can be cruel, and that their lives are not free, any easier to digest. 

Similarly, it is difficult to see the mahouts working around the clock for scant pay and lost social status, struggling to find time for their families. 

Both elephant and mahout seem like outcasts, existing together on the margins of the modern era. There are no easy solutions or answers.

Today, the Forest Department still relies heavily on captive elephants as valuable members of anti-poaching and patrol teams, conservation research, and elephant conflict mitigation. For now, they remain a critical piece of the long- and short-term strategies being implemented to save the Asian elephant from extinction. 

The elephants are able to move silently through thick vegetation, carrying both their mahout handler and a Forest Department patrol safely lifted off the jungle floor. Together, these teams can travel deep into the forest where no vehicle can enter.

In this particular camp, in north Bengal, the patrol teams’ most critical role is to assess the health of the one-horned rhinoceros, for which this land is historically a breeding ground, thwarting poachers. In some cases the teams are also employed to expertly help drive out wild elephants herds from marauding, destroying crops, damaging homes, and killing people during cultivation season. 

For the six elephants and twelve mahouts of this elephant camp, the traditions are palpable, and elephant care is monitored through strict health and safety guidelines. Elephants, Forest Department staff, mahouts, and their families all live and work in the busy community, at odd hours to the tune of the elephants’ needs. 


For longer than a century Forest Departments in India have utilized elephants and mahouts for use in protection and as a procedure to assist with moderating the human-elephant struggle. Every elephant requires two full-time overseers, a mahout and his understudy—called the patawala—to address their issues. 

The conventional insight of mahout, passed down for ages inside close networks, includes profound and direct investigation of elephant conduct, information on woods developed medications, fastidious consideration regarding care and taking care of, and a rich practice of children’s songs and alleviating tunes. 

As present day protection laws in India have as of late prohibited catching and selling wild elephants, elephants utilized for logging, and most private proprietorship, monetary freedoms for mahout families have fundamentally dwindled. Mahout families have been compelled to look for other work and are done showing the up and coming age of mahouts. 

Thusly, the Forest Department, one of the main substances that depend on hostage elephants and take in vagrants all through India, are winding up in an emergency. As their requirement for experienced mahouts expands, the individuals who hold the native insight are becoming rare. 

Regardless of new mahout employees going through a top to bottom preparing program, they frequently come up short on the generational insight and subtlety that comes from being raised among elephants. 

Numerous elephants working for the Forest Department were initially found stranded, without their group, starving and dislodged. And keeping in mind that that clarifies why they are here, it doesn’t make the way that underlying preparation can be pitiless, and that their lives are not free, any simpler to process. 

Likewise, it is hard to see the mahouts working nonstop for meager compensation and lost societal position, battling to figure out an ideal opportunity for their families. 

Both elephant and mahout seem like outsiders, existing together on the edges of the cutting edge time. There are no simple arrangements or replies. 

Today, the Forest Department actually depends vigorously on hostage elephants as significant individuals from hostile to poaching and watch groups, preservation examination, and elephant struggle moderation. For the time being, they stay a basic piece of the long-and momentary systems being carried out to save the Asian elephant from elimination. 

The elephants can move quietly through thick vegetation, conveying both their mahout overseer and a Forest Department watch securely took off the wilderness floor. Together, these groups can travel profound into the timberland where no vehicle can enter. 

In this specific camp, in north Bengal, the watch groups’ most basic job is to evaluate the wellbeing of the one-horned rhinoceros, for which this land is generally a favorable place, foiling poachers. Now and again the groups are likewise utilized to expertly assist drive with trip wild elephant crowds from ravaging, annihilating yields, harming homes, and killing individuals during development season. 

For the six elephants and twelve mahouts of this elephant camp, the practices are obvious, and elephant care is observed through severe wellbeing and security rules. Elephants, Forest Department staff, mahouts, and their families all live and work in the bustling local area, at odd hours to the tune of the elephants’ necessities. 


The calls are guidelines in a language the elephant and mahout have been utilizing to convey for quite a long time. In what resembles an arranged dance, Surya bows on his back legs to permit grass groups to slide easily from his back, spreading out in absolutely the perfect position at the front of his taking care of the station. Surya’s associate Mahout recovers the containers half-loaded up with a dietary enhancement of wild rice, rice syrup, and other normal fixings. 

While elephants in this Forest Department camp go through a lot of their days and evenings touching moderately openly in the encompassing woodland, this enhancement is important. Gone are the immense areas of rich timberlands plentiful with the variety of nourishment a crowd of elephants ideally need. 

Hunching close to the particular heaps of grass, metal pail at his feet, the patawala takes small bunches of long grass, folds them fifty-fifty, snaps each over the can edge, then, at that point, pulls the mixture separated to make a dinghy formed compartment with long reeds dragging along it. 

With his hands, the patawala scoops out an exact serving of rice combination and wraps the leftover grass to make a cover. To get the group, two long strands are woven around the pod in an unpredictable tie that seems to have no less than four varieties. Faridul, Surya’s lead mahout, approaches help. 

The profoundly close to home connection between every elephant and their mahout overseer is the most basic perspective for all of their work together. 

In case Faridul is just legitimate and the patawala the primary wellspring of all food, the sensitive bond can become imbalanced. Plus, this tusker will burn-through around 20-30 units two times per day. Right when one is made, it is flown into the elephant’s mouth; eating the masterpieces as though they are modest bunches of nuts. 

I’m hypnotized at their deftness. 

Satish, a previous development laborer and mahout to Saboney, probably the littlest elephant, brings me over to check it out. I’m anxious to learn. 

Overlay, twist. “No. no,” he grins and shakes his head. “Show me once more,” I say and motion as I don’t communicate in Bengali. The rice adheres to my hands as I attempt to pack it into the unbalanced bowl I’ve figured out how to make. Presently for the tie. 

It breaks, breaks once more, and on the third attempt, it actually comes unraveled. 

Satish snickers and still takes the time. The mahouts don’t appear to mind that their diligent effort vanishes so rapidly. This custom is a significant piece of the consideration and taking care of cycle among mahout and elephant, only one of the many exceptionally specific procedures that have been passed down for ages inside mahout families. Solely after the elephants have eaten do the mahouts return to their families to have their own morning meal prior to getting back to work. 


Also, presently, after 90 days, we are here during the rainstorm season when the recreation center is authoritatively shut. In any case, the elephant watches and 24-hour care and taking care of the program should proceed through the high waters and episodes of heavy downpour. 

Jody MacDonald, a narrative photographic artist, and I have tied down the important authorizations to notice, report, and meet the mahouts and their charges during this season, and we are appreciative to be here. 

We rapidly unload and assemble our things to go to the waterway with the goal that we can archive and notice the everyday washing customs. Life at this specific elephant camp has a normal rhythm and a pivoting plan intended to ensure the elephants with episodes of rest and restricted long periods of watch. 

Sure that we know the way, we start down the way. The path is cleaned out and sloppy. My flip lemon kick mud behind me and suck into the ground. In front of us is the lookout, a high protected wooden square that shows up ridiculously shaky yet which we are guaranteed is strong (it has since been cleared away). 

For the time being, the pinnacle is roosted on the banks of the Murti waterway. When tranquil and quiet, the stream is presently seething with just little spaces of more slow, more secure vortexes in the current for the mahouts to wash the elephants. 

We advance, yet what was once a stone venturing stream crossing is presently knee-profound with little rapids. My decision of skirt is grievous, and it hauls in the water regardless of my endeavors to raise it without dropping my stuff. 

Ultimately, I pull my sopping wet self up the two step stepping stools into the haven where five mahouts are playing an unruly round of cards while they hang tight for the patawalas to get the elephants from the woods where they have been going through a large part of the day eating and associating with each other. 

The downpour is making the stream turbulent and at the principal sight of the elephants, the mahouts stand and start to get together. Khurki blades dangle from strings around their midsections. Gotten into hand-cut sheaths, these since quite a while ago bended edges are useful for everything from slicing grasses and stalks to documenting tusks and nails. In every one of their hands, a characteristic pumice stone to scour and clean their elephants. 

The patawalas and elephants channel in a little at a time from different bearings. Up the riverbank and out through the woods come Hilary and Diana. The mahouts clarify that these females are dearest companions and frequently invest their free energy visiting and nibbling in closeness. 

Today, there is a rancher abandoned across the stream on the shore. He has a rucksack and appears to have planned his appearance in the expectation of getting a ride across. The stream is very slippery for a human to endeavor a dip. He is fortunate, Suriya is drawing nearer through the fields. The patawala and Surya assist the rancher with getting on. At the most unfathomable point, however the water covers the men’s feet, Surya moves with elegance, dexterity, and strength. A solid wake of waves flanks his sides as he advances toward shore.

Shower time is a feature for the two elephants and their mahouts. A period for games and socialization, the elephants absorb and shower themselves in the waterway while the mahouts play a game of cards on the bank; eyes apparently in the backs of their heads as they intermittently get down on orders. 

Without any vacationers for quite a long time, the mahouts appear to be less repressed, yet the high water is cause for alert. The space accessible for the elephants to glide and unwind is restricted to generally little vortexes. I’m eased to see that Raja, one of the littlest of the gathering, a youthful male with small stubs for tusks, is at last joining the others. 

Last time we were here he was not allowed this social hour and was attached to a close by tree, just washed after the others had left. He is behaving like a harasser, the mahouts had disclosed to us, upsetting different elephants by jabbing at them and attempting to start a quarrel. He should be isolated with the goal that they don’t experience the ill effects of his antisocial conduct. 

In the wild, groups are matriarchal, and basically composed of females; just a single male plays a surefire part in the crowd as a defender for the others. The female is the pioneer. Youthful bull elephants leave the group once they arrive at their high schooler years. At times they assemble into a gathering with different guys, however frequently they hang alone. 

Nowadays, without a trace of dependable food and backwoods scene to satisfy their requirements, numerous single bulls presently connect themselves to towns all through the customary transient region, learning the comings and goings of every individual who lives there and the circumstance of harvest development, to enhance his restricted food source. 

At this camp, it is the full grown tusker Surya who seems, by all accounts, to be in the job of male defender for the four females. Raja has needed to re-change and obviously has prevailed as he is presently back in the water with the others. Valid, he is as yet jabbing little Saboney with his trunk, attempting to stand out enough to be noticed. Yet, she simply settles back under the water as though she is sleeping soundly and can’t be disturbed. He at last surrenders. 

Without profoundly specific mahouts who practice the finely tuned specialty of dedication to their elephant, the delicate connections among elephant and controller take steps to separate, putting both in danger. There is a rich ordinance directing the consideration, direction, and discipline that should be clung to for the wellbeing and security of both elephant and mahout. 

Without any this native insight being educated continuously, explicit manuals have been composed, showing exhaustively the accepted procedures in the whole range of hostage elephant care and the board. 

Men recruited to be mahouts who have not had the experience of growing up with elephants, under direct preparation, over numerous years, risk falling back on mastery and viciousness to control their elephant. An error that can demonstrate unsafe to the creature, and at last dangerous for the mahout. 

For instance, during one of my stream perceptions, when the camp’s head mahout and his elephant were on brief leave, a youthful reckless patawala who appeared to ooze a quality of vindictiveness, struck his elephant in a way that had all the earmarks of being superfluously barbarous. 

I was unable to watch without leaving away with an unmistakable inclination that this man could ultimately turn into a measurement with the elephant on the triumphant side. This thinking is doubly dismal in light of the fact that you can envision that the elephant will be accused, when truth be told it is the human who is entirely capable. 

The elephant in his consideration, and for sure every one of them here, have the limit in a moment to utilize their trunks to cull and indulge any human reachable to their demise. And keeping in mind that they might have a foot briefly fastened while in the pilkhana, more often than not they are not restricted and their trunks are in every case free.

As a distinct difference, Faridul, who prepared as patawala to the all around regarded master Dinobunde prior to turning out to be full mahout to Surya, displays a quiet, consistent way consistently. 

Once, the acclaimed kunkie (uniquely prepared elephant) Surya with Faridul in charge and the Department’s beat official behind him, sticking on for dear life, securely drove off a crowd of more than 100 elephants that had come to devour a nearby town’s harvests. This is a typical event in maize development season and, if not overseen cautiously, brings about the injury or demise of people and elephants. 

“I was not apprehensive,” Faridul says essentially, his tall flimsy casing apparently made of bird bones, belying his solidarity. “I trust Suriya totally.” 

He has a tendency to have a huge bubble on Surya’s back leg. Hunkered close by an enormous pot of water with recuperating spices and medication bubbled over an open fire, Faridul douses a pack. 

Savvy mahouts would follow their wiped out or harmed elephants into the wilderness since they comprehend that the elephant will search out the medication they need inside their natural surroundings to recuperate what distresses them. The mahout will then, at that point, notice the normal recuperating and record the restorative source, adding to the native information on medication that is as yet utilized today. 

Faridul is 32 years of age. He has a spouse, a girl, and a baby child. He has been with Suryia for quite a long time, first as his patawala, and presently as his mahout. 

Mahout intelligence indicates that an elephant gets the demeanor of his mahout, as well as the other way around. Then, over the long haul, the two mirror each other. Faridul and Surya are now living instances of this antiquated saying. 

“At the point when Surya is glad, I am cheerful. At the point when he is furious, I feel as such as well. In case he is unwell, it makes me the equivalent,” Faridul says as he presses a hand to Surya’s circumference. The discussion is obviously over as he curves to one knee underneath his elephant and with the grouping of a tightrope walker applies a pack to Surya’s leg. Thus, the elephant is patient, in any event, bowing on order, permitting Faridul to get further into the injury. 


While most will concur that, in a perfect world, elephants ought to meander wild in the rich territories that once extended across Asia, with no human obstruction, that reality has since a long time ago elapsed. There are for all intents and purposes not any more continuous areas of bountiful woodlands for the elephants to possess untouched. 

While many square kilometers of normal woodland have been ensured as public parks, offering a rich and secured desert spring, they exist as piercing tokens of the size of what has been lost. 

Elephants are transient creatures and their necessities are super-sized. An ideal home reach for earth’s last monsters midpoints 650 square kilometers, and can get by at least 200 square kilometers. Human infringement has contracted the current reach size to under 150 square kilometers, constraining elephants to crush along the old transient courses. 

To shed understanding on the dietary requirements these living spaces should satisfy, elephants eat around 10–15 percent of their body weight each day. This means as much as 200 kilograms of vegetation and around 200 liters of water being burned-through each day. There are just pockets of normal wilderness sprinkled among an assortment of human-made blockages: tea gardens, towns, interstates, trains, electric fencing, modern structures, armed force sleeping quarters. 

Where once more than 300,000 Asian elephants meandered all through a continuous scene of lavish backwoods, presently roughly just 30,000 stay, compelled to impart exhausted assets to other crushed out untamed life and an as yet developing mass of humankind. 

Add the impacts of environmental change, with far reaching evaporation of customary watering openings and streams, and the circumstance appears to be miserable. However one encouraging sign is the reclamation of crucial halls to connect areas of natural surroundings toward the vision of making a protected section for elephants to meander. 

In a helpful effort spreading over the country, the Wildlife Trust of India, in association with Elephant Family (established by the late Mark Shand) has recognized 101 halls and is building associations with neighborhood grassroots associations like SPOAR in this specific district. 

Pursuing solid outcomes, endeavors incorporate formation of elephant-accommodating tea gardens, movement of contention ridden towns, campaigning to impede advancement in elephant relocation courses, and making over and under untamed life disregard throughs expressways and railroad lines. 

While arrangements like these can’t uniquely reestablish the size of what has been lost they can, and do, secure human and elephant lives. 

Saving the jeopardized Asian elephant requires socially suitable, sensible, and consistently advancing arrangements. In India, as a component of a 4,000-year-old human-elephant relationship dynamic, there are a huge number of working elephants still in imprisonment. 

Mahouts with particular preparation, who are dedicated to their elephants and upheld with the monetary and economic wellbeing they merit, offer the most obvious opportunity for hostage elephants to flourish. 

In the interim, for the elephants and mahouts at this Forest Department camp, life follows a rhythm, both every day and occasionally, with near ideal natural conditions: lavish backwoods, a critical all year water source, and a very close local area inside a town that isn’t stuffed. 

In the nights, as the sun sets, the ladies come into the patio to mingle, while their kids twirl and pursue each other around the grounds. The elephants rest and eat before night watch, the mahouts have a speedy break themselves. Faridul surrenders his valuable available energy to converse with me. 

I ask him, in the event that he had such a lot of cash that he could never need to work one more day in his life, would he actually need to be a mahout? Faridul peers down and shakes his head with a modest grin. 

“Indeed, obviously,” he says, “I will be with Surya for as long as I can remember.” 

However, when I inquire as to whether he intends to show his child the craft of mahout, his face mists over and he watches out over the woodland and pilkana, then, at that point, back at me. “No,” he says. “It is too troublesome a day to day existence. I don’t want that for my kids.” 

Faridul’s story, alongside his kindred mahouts at this Forest Department base at the foundation of the Himalaya on the boundary of Bhutan, addresses just a little part to the assortment of concurrence arrangements being utilized by NGOs, scientists, tea nurseries, people, and government elements across India. However, it is a strong part: these specific elephants and their devoted mahouts are accomplices serving on the cutting edges of an extraordinary natural life struggle. 

One can’t resist the opportunity to feel that they are, maybe, forfeiting individual opportunity to ensure the expanded chance of endurance of the two species. Allow us to trust their penance won’t be made to no end. 

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