Flanked by River Tunga on one side and Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary on the other, Sakrebyle Village is an excellent location to host elephants in captivity. The Karnataka Forest Department manages an elephant camp at the edge of the village, which houses some elephants rescued from private owners, and some captured in the wild. A considerable population of Sakrebyle village comprises of mahouts and kawadis who train and take care of these elephants. Some families have been taking care of elephants for generations, from the time of the Kings of Mysore.
Ghous Khan is a mahout from Sakrebyle, born to a mahout father, and now takes care of a sub-adult elephant named Aale at the camp.
Aale is an extension of his family for Ghouse Khan, as is for many mahouts. Every morning, Aale makes a stopover at Khan’s house. While Khan takes a tea-break, Aale munches over plantain stems.
Khan’s family identifies themselves closely with Aale. His son relishes on playing with Aale. As Khan puts it, his son expects to spend a few moments with the pachyderm every day before it is taken away to the camp.
One of the important activities at the camp is the daily bathing and scrubbing of elephants. For more than an hour, mahouts keep the elephants in the water, letting them go deeper for a drink first and subsequently scrubbing every inch of their thick hide.
Khan gets on the back of Aale after the day’s scrub is done.
Often, the relationship between mahout and the elephant is similar to that of a parent and child. The elephants are cared for through the day, and are occasionally reprimanded gently when they refuse to obey orders.
The camp’s daily routine involves feeding the elephants with a weighed measure of rice, jaggery and ragi balls rolled into grass blades.
A baby elephant interacts with Aale at the camp during the feeding hour, while Khan looks on.
The tiny eyes, shiny tusks and the wrinkled hide of Aale.
After a few hours of being bathed and fed at the camp, Aale is taken in to Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary where itis allowed to roam free. The drag chain tied to Aale allows Khan to trace the whereabouts of the elephant later. Khan goes back to the forest again in the evening to check on Aale. The next morning, Aale will be brought back to the camp via Khan’s house for her daily scrub and feeding.
Four generations of Khan’s family, all of whom identify closely with the elephant.