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12.8.09

A poignant episode in the Srivilliputhur forests in southern Tamil Nadu had all the makings of a sylvan tragedy, but has now come to a
happy ending. A week after the death of its mother, a five-month-old baby elephant that was stranded in the reserve forests with just a five-year-old sibling for company has now found two foster mothers to take care of it.

On August 3, the female elephant died, leaving behind the calf whose gender is yet to be ascertained and a five-year-old male elephant. Forest officials were worried about the calf's survival, but could not go near it as the elder one threatened to charge at all those who came close.

The drama took a turn when a 'makhna' (a tuskless male elephant), which was probably part of the herd, came to guard the two stranded elephants. "As the 'makhna' was quite aggressive, no one could even think of approaching the elephants," said TS Subramaniaraja of the Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam (WAR).

A team of trackers led by NS Manoharan, veterinarian attached to the Coimbatore forest circle and deputed especially to rescue the baby elephant, observed the trio for four days. "We could see the baby elephant take food from the barks eaten by its brother for the first two days. It was also able to eat grass and digest it," Manoharan said.

On the third day, two adult females and a calf joined the two stranded elephants and from then on, the baby became cheerful and active. Much to the relief of the doctors and forest officials, the condition of the calf improved and it appeared to be getting used to the new company.

"As there was another calf to play with and with two adult females acting as foster mothers, the baby elephant is now freely wandering about and perambulating the forest area adjoining the foothills," said a thrilled Manoharan, who has now returned to his base in Coimbatore from Srivilliputhur.

The young ones haven't forgotten their mother though. "Over the past few days, the two elephants also visited the place where their mother was buried and spent some time there," said Subramaniaraja.

According to locals, Shenbagathoppu, a mango grove with a stream running through it, is visited by herds of elephants throughout the year. There could even be a resident herd, foresters said. Srivilliputhur sanctuary wildlife warden S A Raju has created artificial ponds to cater to the need of the herd.

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