The Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) has embarked on a recruitment of mahouts and kavadis for various elephant camps. It is all set to recruit 51 mahouts and 27 kavadis to look after captive elephants in various camps. While mahouts are crucial in many KFD operations, experts doubt there exist such large numbers of ‘trained’ mahouts today.
Accompanying their trained elephants since pre-independent era, mahouts were the striking images of conservation programmes across India. However, off late, their population has cut a sorry figure for various reasons. With the rise in man-elephant conflicts in various parts of the state, particularly in the last few years, there has been a renewed demand for mahouts and kavadis as KFD is forced to capture some of the marauding elephants and transport them to department-run camps for ‘taming’.
Confirming the largescale recruitment of mahouts and kavadis, Vinay Luthra, principal chief conservator of forests, Head of Forestry Force, said, “Several mahouts have retired. As per the Karnataka Forest Manual standards, there should be at least one mahout and kavadi for each elephant. Hence, a proposal was sent seeking permission to recruit mahouts and kavadis. The government has given its nod.”
Sources in the KFD revealed that this is the biggest ever recruitment in the last two decades. Currently, the KFD has about seven elephant camps and all of them predominantly concentrated in southern Karnataka and Malnad region. Currently, there are 122 elephants in all the camps. The department had only 71 sanctioned posts of mahouts and 90 kavadis.
Questioned whether those on contract basis would be absorbed into the department, Luthra clarified, “In most cases, mahout may have belonged to the same family as the skill is passed on to them from their ancestors. Yet, there are qualification laid down and one needs to comply with them. However, if they apply afresh and qualify for the post, they will be recruited.”