Zoo

An Elephantine Welcome

Toby Ninan retired from Delhi Zoo about two years back. With his varied experiences with the wild animals in the zoo, he is the right person to direct your queries to. Hear what Ninan has to say about his life and chosen career!

A pair of Leopard cubs were the P.M.’s gift to the Algerian people and these were flown in style to Algiers with me. I would be required to (1) clean dirty crates (2) provide for the care of the cubs (3) meet V.I.P.s and welcome them properly.

The late Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi was on his first trip to U.S. –after becoming the P.M.-one of his stops was Algiers where the cubs would be presented and looked after in the Algiers Zoo thereafter.

Our trip to Algiers, a week before the P.M.’s arrival, was indeed very eventful but that is another story. Every body in Algeria was very excited especially the Zoo people and they wanted to give a fitting reception to the P.M. who would formally present the cubs.

I got a shock when the plan to receive Mr. Gandhi was unfolded to me . The Algerians wanted the welcome to be heralded by a group of some thirty semi wild Indian elephants, who would receive the honoured guest with a royal trumpet!!

I was given this task and it gave me quite a number of sleepless nights. The reason for my sleepless nights was the fact that these Indian elephants had been sent to Algiers before they completed the full training sessions. I knew that chances of them getting trained further in Algiers was remote.

Finally I came up with a plan which would fit the bill, or so I hoped. There was a piece of raised land near the welcoming site which was covered with scrub bushes about two feet high. I planned to tether the elephants there with both forefeet in manacles and with a length of chain in between. This was to be repeated with the hind legs,and because of the growth of these bushes the manacles would not be seen by the visitors.

The great day came and as usual I came down in the morning to the Zoo in my work clothes. I started my day by giving a helping hand to the zoo officials to catch a leopard cub which had hid itself in the corner of a big enclosure. A Zebra had a bad eye infection had to be caught so that the infection could be treated . The leopard job was completed with a stream of water from a hose pipe but the Zebra job was much tougher and messier, it took all my skills as a marks man to tranquilize the animal. Soon she- with pus flowing out of one eye- was cradled in my lap and duly dressed and treated.

All this work got my clothes as dirty as one could imagine. I looked forward to go back to the hotel, have a nice cold shower and get properly dressed for the presentation ceremony to be held in the evening. Little did I realize that the Algerian security would not let me come anywhere near the hotel which also hosted the P.M. I had to go back as dirty as I had come. No amount of persuasion by my host, the Vet of the Zoo, would change the security's mind.

Finally I got some of the muck off from my clothes and sprayed myself liberally with perfumes. I waited anxiously for the P.M. He was really gracious and in spite of my visibly dirty clothes, shook me warmly by the hand and waited for the welcome ceremony.

The elephants, seeing the cavalcade of cars, were some what worked up and with a slight urging trumpeted wildly so that even the ground shook. I saw quite a few pale faces in the P.M.’s party and more of them among the welcoming crowed which included the Indian community some of whom had come from far flung areas in flowing Arab clothes to welcome Mr. Gandhi.

The trumpeting stopped and Mr Gandhi formally presented the leopard cubs by opening the curtains that hid the cubs held in crates.

All this looked very simple but it really required a lot of inner strength to execute the programme flawlessly.




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