Sakrebailu elepahant training camp is one of the exclusive and oldest training school to tame and train the wild elephants. Any wild elephant that was brought here would be tamed by the experienced trainers –mahouts and Kavadis’ . Being a major elephant camp at the state level, teachers of elephants both Mahouts and Kavadis’ role significant in making it as a noted tourist spot in the state.
Sakrebailu elephant camp is situated about 12 kms away from Shivamogga city. This is situated on the premises of Sakrebailu wild life division and the camp is located on the bank of Tunga river. One can find bamboo forest and on the other side the dense forest with rich flora and fauna that makes a very good habitat for the elephants to live in.
Here one can see the harmonious relationship between humans and animals in the wilderness of Sakrebailu elephant camp. This relationship evolved from many decades and still remain curious about it in the minds of visitors when they are on their way home!
History of Sakrebailu elephant camp :
The camp has a history from the time of pre independence days. Maharaja of Mysuru also visited the camp.
It was during 1970s’ when the district witnessing major projects of construction of reservoirs and laying of railway route. Then people brought elephants to shift the wood for railway sleepers. So, elephant camp was established in Sakrebailu which is situated between Tunga river and shettyhalli reserve forest.
Considering the rich resource of water and food for the elephants,then forest department authorities identified Timmapura?..situated on the right bank of Tunga river. When this village submerged after the construction of Tunga reservoir, the elephant camp shifted to Sakrebailu camp. This camp has history of more than 80 years and presently there are 23 elephants that includes --- male elephants and --- female elephants. This camp is the biggest elephant camp that caters more number of elephants.
Staff looking after the elephants :
To take care of elephants there is a team of mahouts and kavadis’ working under the stewardship of Jamedar. Two Kavadis’ and a mahout would take care of an elephant. Mahout gives direction to the elephant while it was the duty of Kavadis’ to apply oil and bathing of elephants. In toto, Jamedar manages the entire activities of all elephants of the camp.
Routine work of Mahouts :
Everyday, the mahouts would enter into the Shettihalli forest by morning 5 and go in search of their elephant which they left in the forest on the previous day. Mahouts will identify the direction of movement of the elephant based on the chain mark that was tied to the leg. Thereafter he brings the elephant to the Camp area to bath the elephant. Every day, between 7 am and 10 am the kavadis’ would take care of bathing of these elephants.
Bathing a special attraction:
Main attraction for visitors to visit the camp during the morning hours is to enjoy how these Kavadis’ perform the act of bathing these elephants. Both Kavadis’ and mahouts rub and massage the body, cleans the tusk, the head portion. They take minimum of 2-3 hours to bath these elephants. It is interesting watch the elephants how they respond to the commands given by the kavadis’ in ‘Bangla language’.
After the bath, all the elephants will fall in line and will be provided with light food. By 12 noon,the Kavadis and mahouts would tie the ‘chain to the legs’ of the elephants and in team these elephants will be taken out in different directions inside the Shettihalli reserve forest area.
This act of taking care of the elephants besides providing special food like jiggery builds ‘relationship’ and this supports in gaining ‘confidence’ of the elephants. Visitors turn astonished to watch the work of these mahouts and Kavadis’ and definitely ‘appreciate’ it.
Life at risk :
In the history of Sakrebailu elephant camp, about 10-15 mahouts and Kavadis’ succumbed to the attack of both tamed as well as wild elephants.
“If any mahout or Kavadi goes on leave even for a single day, it is very difficult for the elephant to get into the forest. It is very difficult that these elephants would listen to the words of other mahouts /kavadi when their regular mahout/kavadi goes on leave. During this period, such accidents happen.
To build the relationship between mahout/kavadi the acts like applying oil on the head of the elephants, bathing and giving food for them supports it. As the elephants will be inside the forest most of the time, it is a challenging task to bring them every morning for the camp. Mahouts have to exhibit lots of love and affection to them and it requires great patience. Whether they keep their head cool in house, but they should exhibit high patience level with their ‘wild friend’, failing which they have to face the problem.
Musth state in Bull Elephants poses challenges and threat to life?! :
Musth is the Hindi rendering of the Urdu word Mast, meaning intoxicated. It comes from an earlier Persian expression, meaning “poisoned”.
An elephant in musth state will kill anything in its way –humans, including its Kavadis’ or mahout or other elephants or any other animal. Musth elephants are sometimes known as ‘rougue elephants”
Musth – a periodical change of the behaviour of elephant bulls which can last from some weeks up to some months. This change has got horomonal reasons. In the musth period male elephant produces 40-60 times more of testosterone (male sex hormone) than in the non-musth time.
During this period, males showed “tears” streaming down the side of their faces (secretions from temporal glands) and continual dripping of urine onto their legs. Besides these physical changes, they also streaming tended to follow females that were in oestrus and were markedly more aggressive than others.
Though the bull elephants in musth state poses threat, as the Sakrebailu camp has female elephants too, it would be bit easy to control the male elephants.
When all the male elephants entering the forest, considering the musth state of the elephant, the direction of movement of male elephants would be deviated. Keeping vigil on the movement of musth elephant in the forest is a challenging and it is the talent and skill that comes to the fore. Despite their talent, mahouts and Kavadis’ faces a life threat situation and have to be utmost careful while managing the musth elephants”..,
Musth elephants will be tied inside the forest and they will not bring it back to the camp area. In the wilderness, these musth elephants would be nurtured separately.
To regain the confidence of musth elephants that were left inside the forest for more time, and it is a tough job for mahouts to bring back the male elephants back to the camp.
“Mahout who spends most of his life time with the elephants, never know, when their relationship with elephant will be at stake. So, their entire work life is –life threat state. They have to struggle and work every day, every moment and have to be cautious and intelligent to learn and understand the behaviour of wild elephants. Nurturing the most sensitive animal is easy?..., difficult?!...
Speciality of Sakrebailu elephant camp :
Mahouts and Kavadis’ were skill full enough to tame any wild elephants which were brought from forest or even the tamed elephant.
“It is easy for wild elephants to tame and to teach their language of communication. But, it is very difficult for those elephants brought from other environment. It is interesting to note that those ‘rogue’ elephants that have attacked humans in different locations, being tamed and presently they exhibit a sober behaviour too”!.
Situation during birth and death of elephant in the camp :
Entire Sakrebailu village celebrates the birth of an elephant calf, the festive mood grips in the village. Villagers celebrate in such a manner that, a baby is born in their house.
Similarly, when an elephant dies, the entire village sinks into tears. Villagers visit the spot and they pay their last tributes too. It would be heart touching moments, when the department authorities perform the last rituals.
When the department authorities shifts an elephant of the camp to other place, the entire village would congregate to bid a farewell!
For generations –these families takes care of elephant!
Sakrebailu a tiny village situated in the forest on the bank of Tunga river. About 90 percent of families residing in the village taking care of the elephants of the camp from two to three generations.
It is family job to nurture the elephants. Some of the grandsons presently working recollects their grandfather being worked either as Jamedar or mahout or a kavadi. Children who goes to school, opts to nurture elephants when they become young.
Nurturing elephants responsibility has become a ‘family profession’. This job more or less a tradition cum emotional attachment that the family carries with the elephants.
Contribution of the camp :
Drona and Bhaskar elephants nurtured at Sakrebailu elephant camp sent for Dasara festival. Lilly and Gayathri female elephants shifted to Bannerughatta forest. Likewise many elephants were sent for some of the mutts too. Elephant that were capture through ‘Kheedda’ in Kakanakote too were tamed at the camp.
Prime tourist place in the district :
Over a period of time, Sakrebailu elephant camp has become a prime tourist spot. All necessary infrastructure facilities extended to the visitors here.
When the water level in Tunga reservoir comes down, the forest department authorities have made provision for boating facility too. Elephant ride is a main attraction!
Last year the Sakrebailu elephant camp collected a revenue of Rs 6 lakhs.
Elephant Festival :
Every year on October 7, last day of the Wild life week ‘elephant festival’ being organised. On the day, several competitions like running race, football and other such events will be organised for elephants of the camp. Best performing elephant will be honoured. Both Mahouts and Kavadis’ too would be recognised and felicitated on the occasion.
Pain and joy of Mahouts and Kavadis’ will be with this wild animal –The Elephant!