She has roamed the forests in Nilambur in Kerala, in the jungles of the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary in Hoshangabad, and is now spending the last years of her life at Panna. Meet Vatsala who is perhaps the world’s oldest living female elephant. Efforts are on to find her birth records so that she can feature in the Guinness World Records.
Officials want the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan to intervene in the matter and help them get the required documentation that will prove Vatsala is the world’s oldest female elephant.
Panna, Madhya Pradesh
Vatsala grew up in the forests of Nilambur in Kerala, in the south of India. When she turned 50 or thereabouts in 1971, she travelled 1,700 kilometres northwards to the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary in the foothills of the Satpura range in Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh. That was to be her home for 22 years after which she shifted residence to the Panna National Park in 1993 where she has lived ever since.
While the Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh has not been able to get records of Vatsala’s date of birth, there is enough reason to believe she is 105 years old and perhaps the oldest living female elephant in the world.
Vatsala, which means affectionate, is older than the other old female elephant Lin Wang who lived in Taiwan Zoo and died there in 2003 at the age of 86. It is the lack of written evidence that is stopping Vatsala being featured in the Guinness World Records.
According to Sanjeev Kumar Gupta who has been personal physician to Vatsala for over 20 years, the teeth of an elephant can indicate her age and Vatsala lost all her pearlies around 1990, and that firmly establishes her age as over 100 years old, he said.
Panna Tiger Reserve, spread over 542.67 square kilometres of area, is home to countless birds and animals, but at the moment all eyes are trained on Vatsala who has been struggling with health problems.
When Vatsala moved to Panna from Hoshangabad, Ramjan Khan, her mahout and Maniram who ensured she had enough fodder, came along with her and continued to be her faithful companions at Panna.
Ramjan Khan who is 60 years old now told Gaon Connection that in 2003, because of health reasons, Vatsala ‘retired’. Since then, she has never had to carry a howdah (a seat to carry people) on her back.
“Vatsala has cataracts in both her eyes and she cannot see very well. Her digestive system has also weakened,” Maniram, her constant companion, told Gaon Connection. He carefully selects the grass and sugarcane bits before feeding them to her. “I am always by her side when she moves around. I hold her trunk or ears and guide her because she cannot go far without help,” he added.
While Vatsala’s life at Panna has been largely peaceful, she has had a couple of near-death encounters with Ram Bahadur, a male elephant who also roams the Panna forests.
In 2003, the year she retired, Vatsala was attacked and grievously injured by Ram Bahadur when the 42-year-old male elephant was in masth. “His tusk ripped open Vatsala’s stomach. It took six hours and two hundred stitches to close the wound, and she had to be closely monitored and treated for nearly nine months,” Gupta said. The wound healed completely only in August 2004, he added.
But, once again, four years later, in 2008, Ram Bahadur the male elephant attacked and injured her. This time it took more than six months for her wound to heal, Gupta said.
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Vatsala, according to her human companions, is a peaceful and sensitive elephant. “She is particularly affectionate with the baby elephants and whenever another elephant gives birth, Vatsala is always in attendance,” Gupta told Gaon Connection. There is no evidence that Vatsala has given birth to an offspring, he added.
Her advanced years have begun telling on Vatsala’s health. She can’t see very well and she needs a special diet that she can digest easily.
The Panna Tiger Reserve is trying to locate Vatsala’s birth records and has got in touch with Nilambur forest division in Kerala to see if it is there.
In 2007, Shahvaj Ahmad, Panna reserve’s field operator, was in correspondence with the Nilambur forest division to obtain Vatsala’s birth records. Once again in 2018, when Ahmad took over as principal chief conservator of forests, wild animals, and came to Panna, he directed the staff to get Vatsala’s records from Neelambur. But, once he retired, the matter also took a back seat.
However, the officials at the Panna Tiger Reserve want the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan to intervene in the matter and help them get the required documentation that will prove Vatsala is the world’s oldest female elephant, and her name will be recorded in the Guinness World Records, so that she lives on, even after she has left this world.
Read the story in Hindi.