The first week of October was a gala at the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh as 15 elephants were indulged at a week-long rejuvenation camp where they did no work, but were pandered, pampered to and fed a delicious diet along with their annual health check-up.
Elephants being cared for during their week-long vacation at the Panna Tiger Reserve. All photos by Arun Singh
Panna, Madhya Pradesh
On October 1, as the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh was thrown open to tourists after the three-month monsoon break, 15 elephants at the reserve took a week off and were pampered, pandered to and fed a feast to help them destress. The weeklong elephant spa from October 1 to October 7 was also their ‘us time’ with the mahouts.
For the entire week, the hard working elephants of the tiger reserve did nothing except allow themselves to mingle, play and rejuvenate. Their mahouts and fodder-cutter also joined them.
“The elephants did no work at all for an entire week. They had a health check up and were given nutritious meals,” Uttam Kumar Sharma, field operator of the Panna Tiger Reserve, told Gaon Connection. The mahouts and others who look after these elephants were also given a health check and several kinds of entertainment were organised for them as well, Uttam Kumar added.
The Panna Tiger Reserve is spread over 1,500 square kilometres and bands of elephants are deployed across the reserve to small camps from where they cover the entire area.
On October 1, the field operator, Uttam Kumar Sharma, welcomed the elephants ceremoniously with the auspicious tikka of rice and turmeric on their forehead. A feast of sugarcane, dry fruits, laddus made of jaggery, apples, pineapples, bananas awaited the pachyderms.
“The elephants work very hard at the tiger reserve. They help in protection of the forest and its inhabitants. They are part of the monsoon patrols, tiger-tranquillising missions, etc.,” Sanjeev Kumar Gupta, doctor at the tiger reserve, told Gaon Connection.
“The elephants can’t meet the other elephants for an entire year. Similarly mahouts do not meet their counterparts in the far flung areas of the forests. So this rejuvenation camp is extra special as it is a reunion of sorts for both elephants and mahouts,” Sanjeev Kumar added.
Meanwhile there was jubilation and quiet celebration for the mahouts too.
A mahout’s life is a tough and a challenging one and 46-year-old Parte’s was no different. In 2011, Parte had caught a wild elephant that had strayed into Janwar village in Panna. The wild elephant, Ganesh, was tamed and trained by Parte and joined the tiger patrol team.
According to the field operator Uttam Kumar, Parte had made a promise to himself that he would remain barefoot until the time he was made a permanent staff member of the tiger reserve. He was a casual labourer all these years.
On October 1, Parte’s dream came true when he became a permanent employee of the Panna Tiger Reserve. Along with Parte,
Mahouts Panchu Kevat, Pawan Parte and Raju Gond were also made permanent. They were promoted from being casual labourers to permanent forest workers.
Senior forest officials such as Vijayanatham TR, deputy director Panna Tiger Reserve, RK Gurudev, associate director, Sanjeev Kumar Gupta, wildlife doctor and several other forest staff were present on the occasion.
Before 2002, there were just three elephant cows in the reserve, Vatsala, Roopkali and Anarkali. “In September 2002, a male elephant, Ram Bahadur, a female elephant Gangavati and a three-month old Mohankali joined them here at the Panna Tiger Reserve,” Sanjeev Kumar recalled.
According to him, Mohankali went on to give birth to three elephant calves and Roopkali had six of them. “Many of them are now part of the elephant taskforce of the Panna Tiger Reserve,” the veterinarian said with pride.
The Panna elephants have a celebrity in their midst, Vatsala who turned 100 recently and is supposed to be the oldest living elephant in the world. The youngest member of the vacationing jumbos is the year-old Karnavati.
The tourists were in for another treat as well. On October 1, the first day the Panna Tiger Reserve was thrown open, there were 32 gypsies with tourists at the reserve.
“When we reached that morning a little into the forest, we spotted tigress P-151 along with her two cubs,” Puneet Sharma, a tourist guide, told Gaon Connection. That was not the end of it.
The very same evening, near the Hinauta Range, tourists got a good look at tigress P-141. There could not have been a better way to start the tourist season, Sharma declared happily.
Meanwhile, if you plan to visit the reserve in the upcoming Diwali vacation, make sure you feed the prepared treats to the elephants and get that selfie with the venerable Vatsala!