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Coming, centre to train mahouts

The mandarins at the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests are a worried lot these days. And, for once it is not vanishing tigers or birds that are the cause of concern. Rather, it is a group of vanishing professionals ? the highly-skilled mahuts ? that has the babus worried, reports Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2006 00:47 IST

The mandarins at the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests are a worried lot these days. And, for once it is not vanishing tigers or birds that are the cause of concern. Rather, it is a group of vanishing professionals — the highly-skilled mahuts — that has the babus worried.

The number of mahouts (elephant riders-cum-caretaker) are on a steady decline across the country. A rough estimate says there are over 4,000 elephants in zoos, temples or circuses, but not enough mahouts to tend to them.

Traditionally, some villages in Bihar, Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu used to provide skilled mahouts. During the golden era of zamindars and kings, the mahout’s was a lucrative profession. But the scenario has changed completely.

“With passage of time, these villages have stopped producing the elephant riders any more resulting in a huge shortage,” said AN Prasad, Director, Project Elephant. 

And the first victims of the shortage are the elephants. “We have observed that the health of elephants in captive areas is declining and their death rate is higher than the ones in the 25 elephant reserves,” Prasad said.

To correct the imbalance, the ministry has decided to build a training ground for mahuts in Haryana. “We have already sanctioned Rs 50 lakh for the project,” he said. A first of its kind, the centre will train mahouts from different parts of the country to be re-employed in captive breeding areas of elephants. It will be built on an 20 acre- plot near the Haryana-UP border and will also keep old elephants.

Email chetan@hindustantimes.com