A rehabilitation center for elephants where old and retired elephants, injured ones who needed care, the abandoned with nowhere to go, are all looked after here. In addition, it is also a place we humans could go and be with them. Sounds wonderful, right? That’s how I felt when I first heard of it from my cousin. So off we went, the L & M and I on a Sunday morning to the Agastyavanam Biological Park, which is a forest range between the better know Peppara and Neyyar dam sanctuaries. The Elephant Rehabilitation Center, the result of an inspiring decision of the Kerala Forest Department, is a unit working under the range office of the area. It is a unique concept in the country itself. I bet no state needs it more than Kerala with the distinction of having the maximum number of captive elephants (almost 900!) within its borders.
The exact location is Kappukadu, and we reached there early enough, almost the first visitors. The place is green (naturally so, forest range and all that) and that was enough to raise my spirits considerably. As if the sunlight filtering through the leaves and giving me myriad opportunities for taking pictures for my Leaf and Light series was not enough, I could hear bird calls as well. But first things first. So off we went to see the elephants. Things were just starting to liven up, it being a Sunday and we being too early. Not for the elephants though. The little ones, there were two of them, were up and about. The bell tied around their neck tinkled as they walked. Take a look at this one below. He is Rana and was injured due to getting trapped in barbed wire fencing around an agricultural area. The calf had been brought here for treatment and care, last year. Isn’t he cute?
Next we went down to the water’s edge to see one of the older ones being bathed. A monkey could be seen on a nearby tree watching a trifle wistfully, this royal bath scene.The men scrubbed away and the elephant relaxed in the water. I was fascinated by the end of the elephant’s trunk moving by itself, as if an independent body, some distance away from the elephant. The elephant was amusing itself moving it’s trunk, sometimes here, sometimes there, poking out of the water then suddenly dipping in.
We were told, if we walked some more through the forest range we could see the other elephants. So we trudged. Well, for the L & M it was easy-peasy, almost like strolling where as I huffed and puffed up the slight slope. I was glad when the ground leveled off. We saw no one on the way and after a while were doubtful where we were headed. The man had said first there would come a small waterfall. So I kept my ears open (they were open anyway to the bird calls). Since there was only this one dirt track, we kept going and finally saw water through the trees, but no waterfall, mind you. And there they were, three elephants, young ones, having their Sunday bath, or rather being given their Sunday bath.
It was so amusing to hear the men repeatedly ordering the elephants to move a leg this way or that, or turn themselves the other way round, the elephants at first paying scant regard and then obeying reluctantly. Scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub. The legs, huge torso, the flappy ears, long trunks, they all got their due share of attention. Here is a short clip I made of them. Enjoy!
At present there are eleven elephants in age groups of 60 to one year old, but we saw only 7 of them. The littlest ones were being trotted out for their bath while we were on our way back. So we missed seeing the cutie pies. But there is always next time. And then, I want to spend some more time at the centre, watch them eat, may be get down into the water while they bathe and join the scrubbing too.