In pics: After 3 decades, ‘father to Mumbai’s elephants’ to retire from his jumbo task
“While talking to you, I am worried about my elephants. There are many visitors today,” Mohammed Sajid Khan, a 56-year-old mahout at Mumbai’s Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan popularly known as the Byculla zoo, told HT. The veterinary officer in the zoo calls Khan the “father and mother” to elephants Laxmi and Anarkali, who are the oldest in the zoo.
Khan gets worried like a parent if he is not around the two for a long time. He has been working in the zoo for the last three decades taking after his father Mohammad Shakir Khan who in-turn took the job from his father Mohammad Yusuf Khan. At the fag end of his career with just two more years before he retires, senior civic officials say that it is most likely that Sajid Khan’s 16-year-old son, Saif would take up the job after him.
Zoo elephants listen to their mahouts only and doctors say they get so attached to them that they like to be bathed, fed and taken care of only by the mahout.
Of the two, Laxmi, 56, is also infamous for her temperament as she keeps most of the staff, except Khan, at bay. Dr Devanand Shirshat, veterinary officer at the zoo, said, “Even when I go near her to treat her, Sajid needs to be with me owing to her temperament. With Sajid’s family staying in the zoo and being familiar with the surroundings, it is only natural that his son will take up the job.”
Like Khan, 50% of the employees working in the zoo have been there since generations. Zoo director Dr Sanjay Tripathi has also put up a proposal in the corporation to consider the family members as the first option when a staff-member retires. Tripathi said, “Today, be it the hyena, the birds, the deer or the elephants, they are being taken care of people who have always been around them.”
Remembering his father’s work at the zoo, Khan said, “When I was working as a labourer at the zoo, my father used to be ruthless with me if I didn’t do my work properly. I still remember when he got Laxmi from Bihar in 1990. I never went near the elephant enclosure, but had to take up the job after he retired.”
Khan’s day starts with visiting the elephants. He touches at the base of their ears every day to check for fever. He also senses their mood, before bathing or feeding them. “They are like us. They can be happy, sad or angry on any day,” Khan said.
Their breakfast after a nice bath includes 20 kilos of soaked grains with flour for each of them. In the afternoon, they feast on half a kilo of sugarcane as visitors throng to click pictures. The popularity of the newly-opened Humboldt penguin enclosure has also increased the number of visitors to the British-era zoo.
Officials say that Khan does not frequently take leaves, fearing for the elephants’ well being. “I don’t want their routine to get disturbed. They are everything to me,” says Khan while adding, “My family will always be grateful to these animals as they are the means to our survival. If the corporation gives the job to my son, I will be more than happy.”