Upon the conclusion of the Elephant and Tiger Veterinary Workshop in Kerala (see June newsletter
), Linda and three other workshop attendees detoured through Bandipur National Park on their way back to Mysore. Safari, India style – and, yes, they saw a tiger! - plus a lot of other endemic birds and wildlife including the much endangered Gauer and Sambar deer… Lovely creatures that may disappear into extinction without people even knowing what has been lost.
In Mysore, they met up with Mamatha, the teacher, who has been doing such excellent work with her classes, outside school activities, and now the mahouts in three Forest Department elephant camps. It is always delightful, as well as important, to meet and grow closer to those we entrust with the funding our donors provide. Everyone would love her enthusiasm and ability to educate about the value and needs of the Asian elephant.
In two days, Mamatha showed Linda as much of Mysore and the surrounding area as possible. Linda noticed all the decoratively carved lorries, painted oxcarts, and even bicycles loaded with sugar cane all heading toward Mysore, so her tour started with a small jaggery factory. This is where sugarcane is pressed, boiled until the liquid is reduced, and the soft, damp jaggery is poured into molds to dry. The sugar ranges in color from pale yellow to bright orange and is soft and very addictive!
While Linda had visited the grand palace in Mysore on her first visit there (and will never forget the huge and beautiful murals on the walls of the grand ballroom), Mamatha made sure she got a good dose of Mysore’s history by visiting several of the ancient ruins as well as visiting where the Dalai Lama is now domiciled. The two women stopped by Mamatha's University and had lunch with the principal; visited her father and mother (who sent Linda off with a package of sweets and a hand-knitted scarf), and her art teacher and her husband, who is a professor of botany. Linda recommends for everyone to check out the Infosys Campus in Mysore; it is truly amazing! They shopped until Linda’s suitcase was bulging with spices, sweets, and 50+ miniature carved wood elephants that will be offered at AES outreach programs.
But, Linda travels for elephants and so, in addition to their visit to the Mudamalai Elephant Camp, the true highlight for her was our visit to Dubare Elephant Camp. Mamatha is working with the mahouts at Dubare as well as two other Forest Department elephant camps. (The other two were too remote for us to visit on this trip… Always good to have a reason for another visit!) Mamatha teaches the mahouts some English, but mostly helps them understand the historical importance of the animal they work with daily. She also emphasizes the future they are facing and how important being a mahout is; they are the ones best able to tell visitors about their charges! Linda saw some of the AES-embroidered shirts, hats, and draw string bags in use that Mamatha has distributed during her classes. The camp managers as well as the mahouts are glad for her visits and extended lessons.
Dubare is one of the more easily visited camps and has about 3,000 visitors a year. There is a boat concession on the river by the camp and it requires a boat to get across the broad but shallow river (unless one wants to rock hop!) to the camp The have bulls, cows, and calves; elephants of all ages. This is a working camp and several of the adults were out on kunkie duty (helping to persuade wild elephants entering villages to return to the forest lands). Those in camp ‘work’ from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Some give rides on well-padded saddles stuffed with hay and coconut fiber, some take baths, and there is a soccer field but no games were scheduled for this day. Some ‘work’ by accepting food from visitors; packages of hay assembled by their mahout into a nest stuffed with paddy and occasionally a piece of jaggery and then wrapped and tied with more hay. This is the way elephants should be fed with good, nutritious food and not stuffed with fruits and sugarcane. Linda counted several young calves, definite proof that when the elephants are turned loose for the remainder of the day and night they make good use of that time!
Linda also had a nice visit with the manager who showed her the stockade where new arrivals were housed until evaluated for any needed medical care and/or training, as well as the tree and benches where Mamatha teaches her classes. Lots of smiles and nods were exchanged, along with a few “hellos” with mahouts; Linda ended up the day in docent mode talking with a group of college students who were eager to talk elephants… As well as practice their English!
India is an amazing country and Asian Elephant Support must continue to find additional ways to help the Asian elephant prosper, as well as help the people and elephants to safely share their land. We thank you, our supporters, for helping us help them!