The elephants of the Western Ghats whisper.

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The Elephant WhisperersThe heart-warming story of a couple Bowman and Bailey, and their unbreakable bond with an orphaned elephant, Raghav, has been nominated in the ‘Documentary Short Film Category’ at the 95th Academy Awards. Filmed in Tamil Nadu’s Thippakkadu elephant camp in the Madumalai Tiger Reserve, Kartiki Gonsalves’ documentary highlights the bond between humans and animals, but also notes the growing human-human conflict in the elephant corridors of the Western Ghats.

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Many films from the region have focused on the local tribes, the so-called heroes. Malasar, a six-minute conservation film, narrated by actor Nasir, available on YouTube, shows not only the sacred bond between elephants and the Malasar tribes of the Annamalai Hills, but also the preservation of the tribe’s identity and traditional wisdom. It also shows the need. Nasir’s calm, emotion-filled voice speaks for 51-year-old Mani, who takes care of 53-year-old elephant Kalim. Mani calls Kalim his elder brother and says, “There is no path in this forest that we have not walked. My forefathers and their elephants roamed the forests and made a path for us. We follow blindly.”

The Elephant Whisperers

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The Elephant Whisperers | Photo credit: Bhuvan

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“While Karthik’s film brings out the beautiful bond that caretakers share with elephants like their own children, Malasar It showcases the hidden stories and unsung heroes, the Malasar tribes who devote their youth and entire lives to caring for animals,” says Supriya Sahu, Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Forests. In a world where pollution is rampant, people are becoming less tolerant of animals and wildlife, and many species of wildlife are endangered, heartwarming stories offer hope that all is not lost. “It gives the watchers a ray of hope and that’s why such films are important. These are true life stories that are inspiring. Elephants live with caretakers like their babies. It shows how a beautiful bond can exist between humans and wild animals. ”

In Tamil Nadu, more than 60 elephants are cared for by mahouts (elephant trainers) and cuddies (helpers) at Madumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR), Thippakkadu, a pioneer in the rehabilitation and care of captive elephants, and Annamalai Tiger Reserve. (MTR) in Kozhikode. Some of the oldest elephant camps in the country. The mahouts are mostly made up of local tribal communities like the Malasars and Arolis. The maintenance of the camps and the training of the elephants are done according to the traditional knowledge of the tribes. Recently, the Tamil Nadu government sent 13 mahouts from the camps to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Thailand for training. “This is the first and we plan to send more consignments to Sri Lanka or similar places. It is time to recognize their services and enhance their skills. The caretakers are the real heroes that the world should know and their sacrifices. Needs to be appreciated. Young generation should appreciate their services and respect Mahawats who give their all for wildlife. Supriya Sahu added.

It is the mahout and the cuddy who form the backbone of captive elephant care. Chennai-based Principal Chief Conservator of Forests I Anvardin says, “Over time, populations have acquired a combination of traditional wisdom, science and empathy of elephant behavior. It is important to use this wisdom from generation to generation in caring for elephants.” “When dealing with orphaned elephant calves or conflict-affected elephants, human intervention is key.”

MG Ganesan, a forest officer working at ATR, says that Malasars use as many as 60 commands and elephants respond to them, but beyond that they share a complex bond. Captive elephants help reduce human-animal conflict. For example, Kaleem, a Kamkumi (trained elephant), has helped capture more than 25 wild elephants in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala over the past 20 years. “Along with assistance, we have carried out several field operations like patrolling, weeding, and trapping elephants. About eight years ago, when a wild elephant ran amok in Chhattisgarh forests, this Malasar from Anamalai There was a mahout who confiscated it in just two days.They use only one stick as shown in The Elephant Whisperers. Malasar excels in elephant rescue and rehabilitation. After watching videos of Kalim and his caretaker Mani on YouTube, tourists no longer stop to take selfies, they interact with the caretakers and want to know more.

Praveen Shanmuganandan, editor of the Pollachi Papyrus, says the films shed light on local indigenous tribes, bring emotional connection, and demystify myths surrounding captivity. Malasar. “Their traditional wisdom is irreplaceable. They take care of the largest mammal on Earth, day in and day out, and it takes a lifetime of dedication. Films like this have made elephants in captivity for people. The doors to understanding have been opened.

Still from Calero

A still from Kaliru Photo credit: Special Arrangements

“A visual film amplifies the conservation message and is much more accessible,” says Jason Kingsley, whose 18-minute film, Clero Released on YouTube, (Bull Elephant) won 12 international awards in January 2022, including a Nature in Focus Award in India and a nomination for Jackson Wilde internationally. Jason, a Metuplyam-based naturalist currently working in Maharashtra’s Tadoba Tiger Reserve, says the film, narrated by renowned wildlife photographer and conservationist Belinda Wright, shows conflict areas like Metuplyam, Valparai and Dhimbam jungle. It addresses the interaction between humans and animals and also describes its role. Communities in Conservation.

“Elephants have a strong emotional intelligence and social life. We always look at them from a utilitarian and moral point of view. When movies show their beauty, behavior and the whole spectrum, it gives humans a sense of the species,” says Anvardin. Encourages to appreciate, value and protect them. Once they fall in love with elephants, they begin to see forests as a habitat for the wild. Eventually, they become conservationists. ”

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