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Mumtaz picks up the tricks, ready to ‘go ahead’

First team fails, second scores

A second team of mahouts has trained Mumtaz at Alipore zoo and made her ready for release into a forest after the first team failed to make the 24-year-old obey a single command in three months.

“Mumtaz has received enough training to be transported to Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary. She is now as obedient as a pet and we hope she would not throw a tantrum while we take her to north Bengal,” said one of the five mahouts from Assam’s Kaziranga that started working on the elephant in April.

Mumtaz now understands and follows commands like “sit down”, “stand up”, “go ahead” and “move backwards”.

“We have also been able to get up on her back. That is important because in Jaldapara it will be used for patrolling or to take around tourists,” said the mahout.

The new mahouts tasted success at the outset, when they entered Mumtaz’s enclosure without any resistance from her. Uttara, one of the two other elephants who share the enclosure with Mumtaz, was not as courteous, though.

“Uttara chased us as soon as we stepped in. So we had to first placate her by offering her food and patting her,” said the mahout.

“As for Mumtaz, the training started with a familiarisation drive, which included offering her food and pampering her.”

After a demonstration in front of the director of the zoo and other officials earlier this month, it was decided that Mumtaz was ready to be shifted.

A zoo official said if the weather remained conducive — the scorching heat and oppressive humidity over the past few weeks was the key reason why Mumtaz was not shifted — and the elephant did not change her mood, she could be taken to Jaldapara this month.

Two of the mahouts in the second team were instrumental in training Nandan, a wild elephant in Odisha who had killed his mahout while being trained to serve as a kunki in the late 1990s.

Nandan is now a kunki, the type of elephants used to train their wild counterparts.

Mumtaz is to be relocated to Jaldapara in accordance with a directive from the Central Zoo Authority, which has barred Alipore zoo from keeping more than two elephants in an enclosure.

The Central Zoo Authority had in 2009 decided to take elephants out of enclosures, triggering protests from zoos across the country.

The zoo authority sent an ultimatum to Alipore zoo last year that it would have to relocate at least one elephant from the enclosure.

According to experts, training an elephant inside an enclosure is a decent achievement.

“If what the mahouts are saying is correct then it is a decent achievement because such untrained animals do not like to obey commands. They may even attack the mahouts if they get angry,” said a former official of the forest department.

Experts say Alipore zoo is paying the price of keeping the three elephants untrained.

“Zoos must keep elephants trained because they are huge with a mind of their own. Once an elephant gets used to its own ways, it is difficult to make it obey commands. The three elephants in the zoo are docile, but if they decide to go wild for some reason, it would be impossible to control them,” said an elephant expert in the state forest department.