The Punishment

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 number of my friends enjoy their drink and so do my elephants. This applies to a large number of my charges at the Delhi Zoo. When the weather gets really cold, animals other than elephants snuggle down in the warmth of their dens with large amounts of straw to warm them. Elephants stand in their huge and high stalls which, though have plenty of straw, are not very comfortable as they face drafts of cold winds.

Well, in such weather the prescription is a bottle of rum in a bucket of water. This, drunk at night, keeps the animal nice and warm till morning.

It is really a treat to see these huge animals drinking down this potent brew slowly but steadily to the accompaniment of a lot of gurgling noises and body swayings. They also would give the attending staff a good smelling over, perhaps to see whether he or she has had a swig too.

To come back to my story- I had a friend, who was the U.N Ambassador to Russia as our lunch Guest. He was an old friend and we enjoyed many reminiscences together along with two or three bottles of strong beer. After lunch Mr. Mathur ( my friend) and I took a stroll through the zoo. His little grand daughter wanted to say hello to my gentle friend 'Raj Laxmi' who was the oldest of the Zoo elephants. Well, we went into the elephant enclosure and Raj Laxmi gave us a real good sniffing over. As usual, she behaved very well indeed with the little girl and my honoured guest. I stepped up close to her and patted her trunk and face and then gave her a juicy bit of sugar cane to munch on. She took all this very graciously. But while I was giving her the sugar cane, she gently sucked in my hand into her mouth and Ouch! Gave me a gentle bite! A reminder to me that we had not included her in the beer party. Well there was not much I could do because there was no more beer at home. This minor punishment to me by RajLaxmi went unnoticed , even by the mahout. I was relieved that the guests noticed only the best elephant behaviour and brought them quickly back home.

I did not however forget my gentle giant of a friend. Though it was not very cold that night she was given a bucket of that potent mixture to make up for my misdemeanour.

{Painting ( 2002) by Munna Lal of Salaam Balak Trust, New Delhi}

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