Photo-journalist turns an elephant whisperer

Photo-journalist turns an elephant whisperer

Photo-journalist turns an elephant whisperer

Elephants have the biggest heart and the biggest brains. If elephants take a liking to you, then you would get their love but if you irritate them, then you would face their wrath.

Elephants are an integral part of Indian mythology and culture. Elephants have fascinated the mankind and so is Thane resident Anand Shinde, the elephant whisperer.  
“Elephants are like humans in many ways. They also need human friends,” says Shinde, a professional photo-journalist, who can effectively communicate with pachyderms and there are examples to prove this. He has done so in Mumbai and Kerala, the God's Own Country, which has a large elephant population.  He divides his time between  Mumbai and Kerala.

“Elephants can smile and it’s a sweet smile....and I love that smile,” says Anand. The Asian or Asiatic elephant (elephas maximus) is the only living species of the genus elephas and is distributed in South-East Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east.

Shinde, who is the founder-President of the Trunk Call: The Wildlife Foundation, is known for his unique ability to communicate with and calm traumatised elephants. “I have spent some of my memorable time with elephants,” he said. He  learnt to understand the “rumblings” of elephants. “I speak to them in Marathi,” smiles the Maharashtrian.  “In fact when I started interacting with elephants and they too started communicating with me and the mahuts felt insecure. But now I work with them,” he said.  He has just started his journey in the world of elephants and would continue to explore further.

“My aim is to have a sustainable future for elephants and a harmonious coexistence for wildlife and human communities. Elephants are key to biodiversity and we can confidently say that this animal is all about creating a balance in nature,” says the self-taught expert.

“Elephants are keystone species and are the ecosystem’s engineers, gardeners and architects. That means elephants play a key role in maintaining the balance of all other species in the community. The loss of elephants from one particular site would mean that all the biological interactions and ecosystem processes in which they are involved in, would  be lost. One of the reasons elephants are so important for a forest ecosystem is, unlike many other species, they are capable of spreading seeds far from the parent tree,” says the man, who is mastering the art of communicating with elephants.

The strategy of Anand is that he becomes their “friend” by his kindness, gentle speech and touch and then he communicates with the elephants. “I have no special abilities, but I try and understand their problems and needs,” he said.  Communicating with different elephants need different skills. “It’s not the same...some may behave this way or some may the other way,” he said.

Over the last six years, he had  learnt to communicate with elephants by watching their ears, eyes, trunk movements, hearing their rumblings and guessing the stamping of legs. “I keenly observe their behaviour,” he said. He is still on  a learning curve.

When it comes to communication, there are no issues. “They understand the positive tone of humans....language is not the barrier,” he claims.  He narrated his experiences with elephants named Krishna, Ganga, Raja and Rana, Jayashree, Sundari, Bijli, Hari, Unnikrishan and so on. 

He had extensively worked in Kerala, including the Kodanad Elephant Training Centre in Ernakulam district and Elephant Rehabilitation Centre at Kottur near Kappukadu in Thiruvananthapuram. He knows most of the elephants by their names and their needs and he is a call away for the Kerala Forest Department.

“In India, elephants are loved and revered. Therefore, it is all the more important that elephants need to be understood even better,” said the lensman.

Going into the background of how he bonded with elephants, he said: “It started with a feature on the world-renowned Thrissur Pooram in Kerala.”  The festival is an annual seven-day event held in Thrissurin Kerala, where elephants are brought from across the southern state. “It’s really majestic,” he said.

His second encounter was with Krishna and Ganga, two calves. “They  are no more,” said Shinde as his voice chokes. “Krishna had some issues.  He had fractured his leg but was being treated. Whenever he showed signs of giving up, Ganga helped him. Once I was leaving for Mumbai where my mother was ill, he just held me tight with his trunk and simply refused to let me go. I was heartbroken when he died.  Despite medical conditions, he pulled on for nine months. After his death, Ganga too gave up, and she died within a month's time,” he said.

“Elephants are known for their superior intelligence as well as their structured social order. They have a matriarchal system and they need their mothers...calves when lost or fall in ditches and later rescued, miss their mothers....they need to be treated well...you just cannot beat them and ask them to behave....,” he said, narrating his experiences.

“When they fall sick or are injured, they stop eating and cry all day. All they want at that moment is love and care and someone to talk to, here I closely listen to their rumblings and then speak to veterinarians and then decide the course of action as the case may be.  “If they do not come out of the trauma, their chances of survival reduces," he said.

“Mahuts have traditional wisdom and now I am working with them. Their knowledge base had to be integrated with modern-day science...aim is how to calm down an elephant without a stick,” he said.

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