Elephants learn Hindi in two months… Read the interview of Mahout Irshad Ali who understands the language of elephants

Ananya Shroff
7 Min Read
Elephants learn Hindi in two months… Read the interview of Mahout Irshad Ali who understands the language of elephants


Irshad Ali has been a mahout in Dudhwa National Park for the last 30 years. He not only raises elephants, but also trains them and treats them when needed. He has a distinct identity in the department due to his skill in raising orphaned elephants. Recently, the field director also honored him on Environment Day. Prabhat met Irshad Ali with his foster elephants Durga and Gauri in the Gulet forest of South Sonaripur. Here are the highlights of the conversation:

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Q: Tell us about Durga and Gauri, how was the experience of raising them?
Answer:
The forest department found these baby elephants separated from their herd in Najibabad and handed them over to us. We found Durga in 2018. She was three months old. She was badly stung by bees. She needed constant treatment to compensate for the pain of being separated from her mother. In such a situation, the female elephant of our elephant sanctuary, Rupkali, proved to be very helpful. She took care of Durga like a mother. Durga was so big that she could be fed soft fodder. But Gauri, who came in October last year, was very small and also very weak, so she had to be raised on milk only. She is fed a mixture of cow's milk and lactogen eight times a day and five times at night. Like Rupkali, this time Durga also keeps her with her. Yet see that when these baby elephants are grazing around the sanctuary at night, Durga may go to sleep, but the elderly Rupkali always stays awake and guards Gauri. Elephants are very intelligent and sensitive animals, so I think that while keeping them we should take all the precautions that we take for our children at home. They are also children, so sometimes they become stubborn and mischievous. In such a situation, their tantrums have to be tolerated and they have to be explained with love.

Q: How do you train them to make them capable of life in the jungle and other tasks? How much time does it take to teach them?
Answer:
Actually, elephants learn the art of living in the forest by watching other elephants. Just as Durga is raising her trunk in the air and chasing away the flies, Gauri is also patting her trunk in the same manner. Apart from the elephant house, elephants also live together while grazing in the forest. By watching the elders, they get used to the presence of other animals and their reaction to different sounds. They are mainly used for patrolling the forest and taking tourists on a tour and training is required for this. It is enough that they are able to understand the orders and signals of the mahout. During training, we definitely give them something to eat to follow the order, jaggery or bread or something else. The elephant is very intelligent, so it does not take much time to teach it.

Q: You express your gestures in Hindi, so how do you control those ten elephants brought from Karnataka?
Answer:
We did not have to put in a lot of effort. We did face some difficulties initially, but very soon the elephants learnt Hindi. The gestures of the Kannada-speaking mahouts had to be changed to Hindi gestures. They say 'sarak', we say 'pich-hat'. To sit, they say 'baithi' and we say 'sambaith'. The signal to stop in both languages ​​is 'dhat-dhat'. To express displeasure, we scold in a loud voice, the Kannada mahouts say 'aak thu'. It took about two months and they learnt the Hindi gestures.

Q: And how important is the spear that the mahout carries with him?
Answer:
This is just for scaring. It is mostly kept with those elephants that are mischievous. Elephants are afraid of spears, but nobody uses spears here. A gesture is enough. With innocent elephants we only carry a stick. Rupakali is 68 years old. She has been with me for twenty years, but I have never had to use a stick. Elephants respect their mahouts a lot. They understand their voice and roar very well.

Q: How did you learn to take care of elephants yourself?
Answer:
Our elder father Abid Ali was a mahout in Nainital division. After retirement, he started living here with us. I learnt a lot under his guidance – the nature of elephants, their food habits, diseases, medicines and much more. It is not enough to know elephants, it is also very important to know the forest. There are doctors in the forest department, yet the tricks of identifying wild herbs for treatment if needed, saving oneself and the elephant in case of encounter with animals like tiger or rhinoceros come only with experience. But its basic preparation is done only with the advice of elders. Obviously, they have seen more of the world, are more experienced.

Question: When did you come here? How much time do you spend with the elephants? Tell us something about your family too.
Answer:
My father Mukhtar Ali was also a mahout here. After his death, I was recruited in 1994 and since then I am here. I spend day and night with my elephant family. I was never able to give much time to my family and children. Sometimes I reach home in the evening, come home early in the morning or sometimes I go during the day and meet them and come back. Now the children have grown up. One is working in Bangalore after doing B.Tech, the other is still studying. I believe that I got a chance to raise these children, it is a matter of great fortune for me.

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