Our elephants have the chance at life once again, due to the care and compassion of our elephant keepers, who work day-in and day-out so that our elephants are comfortable and content. Of one such large-hearted man is Babu lal, Asha and Suzy’s keeper, who hails from a village near Palwal, Haryana and has dedicated their entire life into taking care of these majestic animals. In a casual conversation with Babu lal, we get to know more about his roots, his love for animals and his experience working with Wildlife SOS from the beginning.
How did you get to know about Wildlife SOS?
I came to know about Wildlife SOS the day they rescued Champa, an elephant who I had been taking care of, at that time. She was the first elephant at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre. When she was rescued, Wildlife SOS offered me a job as well and I agreed, gladly, as I wanted to stay close to my elephant and take care of her, in this new life.
How long have you been working with Wildlife SOS?
I have completed 11 years with Wildlife SOS and have entered my 12th year now. It has been an enriching experience working with the elephants, starting from my dear Champa, and then Bhola. I even took care of Chanchal, Bijli and Laxmi for a little while, before I started working with Asha, Suzy, Lakhi, Coconut and Peanut.
Have you always worked with elephants? How does it feel?
Yes, I have always worked with elephants and it is a wonderful feeling! My family has always taken care of elephants, we also have a few cattle that we care for. It is a very fulfilling experience when we see the elephants have a dustbath or take a dip in the river, or when they excitingly trumpet. I am very happy that my life has revolved around these beautiful animals!
What does your daily routine mainly include?
My day starts early morning at 4 am, when I wake up and check on Asha and Suzy, as well as cleaning their enclosures. From 6:30am in the morning, their walks begin, once they come back from their walk at around 9am, I give them their fodder and fruits, especially for Suzy as she has no molars, I have to make a watermelon smoothie for her to easily consume the fruit as well as, finely chopping her fodder. After their meal, it is time for Asha’s target training and then, bath time for both, Asha and Suzy. The veterinarians, then, come for Asha and Suzy’s treatments and I assist them with it. I rest for an hour and have my lunch in the afternoon, after which it is time for preparing their cooked concentrate and cleaning the enclosures so as to ready them for their evening walk! Their walk ends at 5 pm and I fill their cage feeders with fodder, vegetables and fruits and my day ends as I bid goodbye to them!
What do you love the most about your job?
I love each and everything about my job, but what I will always love and cherish the most is my journey in taking care of all these elephants. When I calm them down during the treatment, when they raise their trunk each time that they sense that I am around, it makes me feel loved!
We recently lost Attaur Rehman Chacha, who was also a dear friend to you, how do you feel about this loss?
I was very close to Chacha and the entire Centre addressed us as “Chacha-Mama” (which means uncles), without him, I feel very incomplete and sad. We used to discuss about our families, elephants and our earlier lives, when we would go along with the elephants for the walks. I miss him very much, every day, especially during the walks. His last words to me were “Are my elephants going for a walk?” and I promised him that they would, and they do.
You take care of Asha and Suzy, tell us one peculiar habit about them that you would like people to know.
They are very gentle and calm elephants; they never trouble me with anything at all. Asha is very shy; however, she will stop in her tracks if she senses another person around that is not me. Until that person leaves, she will not walk ahead – there have been times, I have had to stand with her at the same spot for 30 minutes because she refused to move! Asha also loves sleeping in the pool, I keep hoping that she will play around but the moment she enters the pool she will dose off. As for Suzy, she is completely blind and has no teeth, so when I give her the finely-chopped green fodder, she will repeatedly thrash it against her feet to break it down further before eating it!
With the ongoing crisis in the world, is there any message you would like to convey to people?
I pray to God to give strength to everybody in these difficult times, please, stay at home and do not go out until urgent. I would like to thank all the people who are supporting our elephants in these difficult times, and request everyone to do every little bit that they can, so that our centres can survive! Please, take care everyone! Once lockdown ends, I will see everyone at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre!