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A jumbo by the tail


By Anju Sharma
Published: Monday 31 October 1994

-- (Credit: Zafar Futehally / INDIA)1994 seems to be prime time for pachyws- First there were 2 books describI dwir lives and future - Douglas edwick's Fate of the Elephant and ow Sukumar's Elephant Nights and VK and then came 2 films - the Wo Oscar nominee Elephant Capture &wVoia, directed by Mike Pandey, Lnshnendu Bose's Elephant - Last pw on Earth.

siorse's film is the director's debut in &At filmmaking. Despite being short and money, Last Giants on manages to please with some ing footage, "We were lucky," Bose. "We shot for just about a but man'aged to catch several of elephant behaviour." The s include elephants swimming ivar river and 2 bulls brawling it out.

Cameraman Krishna Chander, a Wrn as far as wildlife filming is rued, found his ignorance fructi aso some courageous angles. Bose &that Chander didn't realise how paus elephants could get and that bim more daring than he would erwise been.

Unfortunately, the script is mean Ifare, finally dishing out ye olde ot tale - those stale slivers of ele I behaviour shots dressed in the kpc salad of the bond between p and animal, and the role of the toiant in Indian culture and reli gion. That's the line the Bedis took when they made Lord of the Jungle, which now everyone seems to be chorusing - be it book or film.

The film could have made a case by using -its footage on human-elephant conflict areas. But shots of the trouble caused by elephants in the Garo hills in Meghalaya and the elephant drive in West Bengal, where marauding ele- phants were driven back into the forest, are arbitraril scattered all over.

The commentary compounds these shortcomings with several grammatical - and worse - facual errors. For instance, while talking about debarking behaviour (elephants often feed on the bark of trees, which they 'debark' with their tusks), the narrator says that "Some explain this as a sign of habitat degradation." Debarking may cause habitat degradation, but this iscertainly not the rule or absolute index of habitat degradation.

Again, a shot of a bull in musth rubbing his temporal glands against a tree is narrated thus: "Although elephants arc not territorial animals, they scent-mark trees to deter other bulls from coming into the area." Quite off the mark, for there has been no study which comes to this conclusion. In fact, the evidence points the other way - there may be several bulls in the same area as the one in musth, and though they will certainly avoid the tizzy one, there are no particular scent-marked areas that they would give a wide berth to. Scientists explainUma Shankar is associated with the Tata Energy Research Institute, Bangalore ing a musth bull rubbing his head against a tree normally suggest that the elephant is trying to squeeze out the mindblowing fluid from his temporal glands to relieve discomfort.

In-depth research would have bene fited the film. Trench-digging, for instance, is an impractical way of man aging the jumbo horde - trowelling all that mud is costly and the trenches need regular brush-ups. But the film endors es the pr@ ctice and informs us that "the Karnataka, government has been spe cially active in this area of elephant con servation7. Forget it. Digging trenches is more about throwing money down the drain, ca' h that could easily be channeled into conservation measures.

Finally, the narrator seems to have grabbed the wrong end of the tail when he claims that the capture and training of elephants is only prevalent in the case of Asian elephants. The elephants used by the redoubtable Rome-hunter Hannibal while crossing the Alps were most probably African. And African elephants are still trained at a school for African elephants set up at the turn of the century by Leopold u, King of Belgium, at Gangala na Bodio in Zaire. So much for Asian docility!

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