66-year-old Chipra Rani with her two-year-old calf outside the forest beat office. Telegraph picture
Bangdaki (Alipurduar), April 1: Chipra Rani, 66, stands 8ft 11 inches tall and has been serving the government for over 40 years.
She is the longest-serving trained elephant in the state, probably the country, said Bengals chief wildlife warden, S.S. Bist.
We have many kunkis (trained elephants) that are older than Chipra Rani, but she has served the department the longest. She is definitely one of the most experienced kunkis in India in terms of service, Bist told The Telegraph.
Normally, elephants live for 65 to 70 years.
Chipra Rani spent the first 25 years of her life in the wild. The forest department captured her from the Chipra beat of Buxa Tiger Reserve in 1967, said Bist. Foresters separated her from the herd with the help of trained elephants before catching her. She was then trained to be a kunki.
A forest official said this technique of seizing wild elephants and making them work in captivity was stopped in 1972, when the wildlife protection act was implemented.
The forest department keeps track of its trained elephants through microchips. A source said the one planted below Chipras ears bears the number 00064D9C51.
For an elephant born in the wild, Chipra is extremely gentle. She always obeys commands and has never injured anyone, said Dhanbahadur Dorji, the mahout who was in charge of her till he retired in 2004.
Chipra took part in many operations in Midnapore and Bankura to send wild elephants back into the forest, at Gorumara during the rhino census and at Buxa to trace an injured elephant.
There are no plans to retire Chipra just yet, said the chief wildlife warden.
Retirement of kunkis depends on their physical condition. At the moment, she is the best trained elephant in the state and probably the country, said Bist.