The Scent of a Woman

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!

Elephants do not like strong scents. I think I have written a story sometime back too about wearing a strong scent which nearly cost me my life!

Well this time it was a well- meaning guest of the zoo who got into trouble. Well, there was this lady who was the daughter of a V.I.P who really enjoyed going round the zoo. Usually it is a bored guest whom I have to take around and have to raise his/her interest by telling stories; at the end of the visit he /she is converted into a zoo fan and I get repeat visits. This time around things were going smoothly till we reached the elephant enclosure. At this time we had stopped elephant rides in the zoo and this meant the elephant had little contact with the general public. I tried to explain all this to my pretty guest in as polite a manner as I could. But the lady was adamant and wanted to pet my big female elephant. The strong perfume worn by the lady had raised warning bells in my mind that too much proximity with an elephant can be dangerous.

To cut a long story short, this lady insisted on walking up to the elephant to pat her. She started stroking the side of the elephant's trunk- all seemed well. Just as I was heaving a sigh of relief, the elephant gave a good tug to the “pallu” of the lady's saree. Off it came in a trice and the tug was so unexpected and forceful that the lady was rolling on the concrete floor of the elephant platform as the saree unraveled itself.

The mahouts were quick to act and their yelling coupled with mine made the elephant let go of the saree. The girl, though frightened took things sportingly when told that the elephant did not like her scent. But the episode was a serious event and we were lucky the elephant did not become violent in any way. The damage was minimal. But it made me resolve once and for all never to introduce anyone wearing a perfume to an elephant!

( Photo courtesy: Jyotsna, with a trained elephant carrying tourists in Corbett National Park )

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