Howdah elephant in heat, a headache for handlers

Howdah elephant in heat, a headache for handlers

Mahouts say Arjuna should be ideally sent back to the camp

Howdah elephant in heat, a headache for handlers

He has been tied separately, his temple is continuously smeared with castor oil, he is being given a ‘cool diet’ and is allowed to mate during the nights, discreetly. And those wanting to take pictures of him are being asked to do it from a safe distance.

This is the story of howdah elephant Arjuna, who is being taken care of extra cautiously, because of his musth (heat) condition.

Though the Forest department has hushed up the matter, mahouts (elephant handlers) tending to the six elephants on the Mysore Palace premises admit that Arjuna has been in musth the last few days.

His condition got more pronounced when the elephants arrived at Aryan Bhavan in Mysore on August 28. The 53-year-old elephant, who has been selected to carry the golden howdah for the third time, has been in an excitable state ever since.

He has been mounting Sarala, one of the kumki elephants, who has come along with him from the same camp - Balle. The mahouts and kavadis, who have been issued a gag order, said that ideally Arjuna has to be sent back to the camp. They said Arjuna was in fact in musth even last year.

Steer clear from tusks

The handlers said that when in musth, Arjuna, who is even otherwise very “naughty”, gets terribly agitated if anybody goes near his trunk and tusks. The handlers themselves tread cautiously when they are close to Arjuna’s face. They say the department veterinarian and the senior officers had been informed of Arjuna’s condition.

“But they are very keen that Arjuna alone should carry the howdah. We have no say in these matters. As long as nobody goes near his trunk or tusks, he should be fine,” the handlers said.

Visitors/tourists are being specifically asked to steer clear from Arjuna, and take his pictures from a distance. The other five elephants are, however, lined up next to each other on a raised platform, away from Arjuna. This was the arrangement last year, too. However, Balarama, Arjuna’s predecessor,  was always tied with the procession elephants and never separately.

During the nights however, he is united with Sarala. This matter, however, has been kept discreet. Castor oil is being regularly applied to his temples to mask the discharge from his temporal glands.

“Preferential treatment”

S N Devaraj, DCF (Wildlife), Mysore, is quick to add that all elephants are given the “preferential treatment”. “Just because Arjuna is seen mounting Sarala, it doesn’t mean he is in musth. Elephants also show their affection in this manner,” he added.

His higher-ups at the secretariat are even more candid. “If Arjuna is in musth, then the doctor and the mahout must be confident of handling him during the procession,” they said, when contacted.

The handlers are also upset over the fact that nursing mothers Sarala and Varalakshmi were forcibly separated from their young ones Kabini and Dharmaraya, and brought to Mysore. The calves are less than 24 months old.

Though the department argues that enactments outline that calves can be weaned when they are 12 months old, the handlers say that more often than not, calves are weaned only after they turn three.