Academy award for Best Documentary Short Film category at the 95th Oscars to Elephant Whisperers, took me back in time and at once reminded me of the prolonged ordeal of Siddhanath, the bull elephant- Lalit Shastri
Siddhanath–the bull elephant had remained chained at the same spot in Satpura Tiger Reserve for many years. The elephant was chained after the Wildlife wing of the State Forest department had tried to declare the elephant as mad when it had crushed to death a grass cutter in the Madhai range in January 2005. Following this incident, the State wildlife officers had gone on record saying that the mad elephant had gone berserk crushing to death its “mahout” in the mating season. Mahout is the Indian name for elephant rider. The mahout and elephant generally have a lifetime relationship.
Investigations by CREW, a not-for-profit organisation devoted to wildlife conservation, revealed that it was not actually a mahout but a grass-cutter who had been crushed to death by the elephant. On probing further, it was found that an extremely popular mahout, Kuttappan was abruptly transferred along with his elephant and the chara-cutter, Hetram Singh from the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve to Madhai in Satpura Tiger Reserve. Kuttappan, also an accomplished wildlife photographer, took leave, challenged his transfer in the High Court and never joined his new posting near Pachmarhi. Hetram was made to substitute as mahout and was killed by the elephant. Following this incident, the elephant was hit by three tranquilising darts fired from a disinject gun and was kept chained at the same spot.
Following persistent efforts by Lalit Shastri, founder President of CREW, who even took up the matter with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Siddhanath was finally set free in the Madhai forest of Madhya Pradesh in central India, where he found his mate Mohini. It was a rewarding experience to watch them move with so much togetherness in the lush green Satpura landscape in 2013.
India wins its first Oscar of 2023: Kartiki Gonsalves-directed short The Elephant Whisperers has won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in the Short Film category .