ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Challenging the Representation of the Human– Animal Relationship in The Elephant Whisperers

Dominant urban voices that speak for the rights of animals often do not consider the plight and rights of indigenous communities who share space with the animal world.

[The names of all the respondents quoted by the researcher have been changed for anonymity.]

Reghu was a 43-year-old father of three schoolgoing children from the Aralam Tribal Resettlement Area in Kerala. He belonged to the indigenous community of Karimpalan. While on his way to collect firewood on 17 March 2023, he found himself in front of a wild elephant that had encroached upon the residential area. Though he ran to the best of his ability, the rogue elephant’s trunk caught him from behind and trampled him to death. His companion managed a narrow escape. Reghu was the 13th victim of a wild elephant attack at the Aralam Tribal Resettlement Area in the last nine years. Five days prior to this incident, an elephant named Raghu received international acclaim as the Indian documentary, The Elephant Whisperers (2022), was awarded the Oscar for the best documentary short film.

The Elephant Whisperers focuses on the middle-aged Bomman and Bellie and their bond with the orphaned Raghu, whom they nurse back to life after he is separated from his herd. Kartiki Gonsalves, the director, has told the story based on her personal experience of living in the Theppakkadu elephant camp situated in the Western Ghats. It vividly depicts the scenic beauty of the ghats and celebrates the indigenous community’s harmonious relationship with the environment. Bomman and Bellie, who belong to the Kattunayakar indigenous community, are employed as the caretakers of the elephants by the forest department in Tamil Nadu. When a parallel is drawn between the present-day scenario of elephant attacks in the settlements close to the southern part of the Western Ghats and The Elephant Whisperers, the former is an experience of intense struggle for survival from the elephants’ attack on life, livelihood, and shelter.

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Updated On : 10th Jul, 2023
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