The forest department in West Bengal’s Burdwan town has a peculiar task at hand—keeping a wild male elephant at least earshot away from a field where a circus has pitched its tents. And that’s to prevent a female elephant, which had eloped with this male tusker three years ago, from repeating the act.
In 2007, when the circus was in Burdwan, elephant Sabitri, the biggest draw at Olympic Circus, had responded to the male’s mating calls with loud inviting trumpets. The tusker reached the field, broke through the circus fence, and both went frolicking into the thick bamboo grove on the town’s outskirts. After a fortnight, though, the tusker, true to his Bohemian nature, seduced another female elephant from a wild herd passing by. Sabitri, heartbroken, returned to the circus.
“We barely got any spectators during the fortnight she was away and incurred huge losses. Even after returning, she was morose and didn’t perform for nearly a month,” says circus manager Anil Mirdha. Sabitri’s mahout, Sheikh Kyamuddin, had to pamper the jumbo, now 30 years old, with her favourite food—cereals, jaggery and bananas—besides giving her body scrubs many times a day to lift her spirits. “It was tough but we succeeded in bringing her back to the ring,” he says.
With the male tusker roaming the jungles around Burdwan town even now, the circus management and her mahout aren’t taking any chances. They’ve requested the forest department to drive it away from the jungles in the town’s vicinity. “This is mating time for elephants. Though Sabitri had a bad experience with him three years ago, she may succumb to lust and run away again. The circus was lucky he didn’t take her into dense forests last time. There’s no telling what he’ll do if Sabitri flees with him again,” says a forest officer at Burdwan.
The tusker, aggressive like all lone elephants, has killed four people in the district and destroyed standing crops. “People of surrounding villages also want us to drive him away into the forest. We have deployed parties with drums and crackers for this task,” he says. Mirdha says Sabitri is in heat and would certainly respond to a mating call.