Today Suparna Ganguly of Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), a member of EAI’s Advisory Council, and I started on a fabulous adventure to the Dubare National Park. An adventurous young woman lives there, who is conducting an experiment to reintroduce captive elephants back to forest life.
Nearly nine years ago, Prajna Chowta and filmmaker husband Philippe Gautier, founders of the Aane Mane Foundation, received government clearance to conduct their research project in Dubare National Park.
Prajna explained that only after she was able to secure a piece of land inside the communal forest did she purchase two female elephants, for the purpose of documenting that rehabilitation and reintroduction is possible.
She and Philippe built a very modest and functional research site on the edge of the national forest. This site has potential for research beyond what Prajna and Phillip are conducting, with room for one or two dedicated individuals whose work would also benefit elephants and the habitat.
Local tribals are employed as mahouts to assist with the care and monitoring of the elephants. Prajna and her family, which includes her four-year-old daughter, have purposefully chosen to live close to the land and in a manner that resembles that of the local people. By accepting the local way of living, they are able to form close relationships that will benefit their work and the welfare of the elephants.
Since the project started, one of the cows was bred by a wild bull and delivered a bull calf. All three spend their days and nights in the forest. Much of that time they are found in the company of wild elephants. Prajna is taking the reintroduction slowly, being completely cognizant of the human/elephant conflict in the area, which could have an impact on the welfare of the project elephants. The immediate plan is to purchase radio collars for the elephants in order to track them unobtrusively.
I am grateful for the time Prajna and Philippe spent explaining their program and discussing the challenges, pitfalls and successes. Their work will continue to provide vital information about rehabilitation and reintroduction of captive elephants into a wild environment.