In India, Dr. Kashal Kanwar Sarma is affectionately known as the ‘Elephant Doctor’ in the forest tribal community. Dr Sarma spent 35 years of his life caring for elephants. Till now he saved the lives of thousands of elephants in the forests of India and Indonesia.
“I’m happiest when I’m around elephants,” says Dr Sarma. I have spent more time with elephants than with my family.
Dr. Sarma, 60, grew up in a village called Burma in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. According to a survey conducted in 2017, out of more than 27,000 elephants in the country, about 5,000 are in Assam.
He told BBC that he has managed to understand the ‘language’ of elephants. “In addition to feeding them, I communicate with them through gestures.”
Most of the elephants here now know me,” he added. Dr. Sarma was earlier this year awarded the Padma Shri, India’s highest civilian honor, for his work. According to his own estimates, he has treated more than 10,000 elephants so far.
It started in 1984 when he first treated a sick elephant under the guidance of his mentor Professor Subhash Chandra Pathak.
“I remember the first time I went to Mansa National Park to treat elephants,” says Dr Sarma. I was very excited that day. ‘
His connection with elephants dates back to his childhood when his family took care of a female elephant named Lakshmi.
“When I was seven years old, I used to sit on Lakshmi and go around the village. This is one of my fondest memories of this elephant. That’s how I fell in love with elephants. ‘
This love and relationship with the elephants has made them the most important doctors in the state, especially in the rainy season. Assam in particular is at risk of severe flooding, which also puts many animals at risk.
The state’s Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO cultural site, is one of the rain-affected areas. The state was flooded in July, killing at least 51 animals in the park, according to officials.
Dr Kashal Sarma, who often helps the government in its efforts to save the lives of animals, says: Many animals die and even many elephants are swept away in the flood.
“It’s normal for elephants to separate their cubs,” he said. In such cases, they need extra care and support. That’s why I help during the flood. “
They do not always have to be officially called in to help during a flood. “But I always go because I try to save as many animals as possible.”
Dr. Sarma has covered more than 300,000 km of dense forest in Assam, encountered and treated thousands of elephants. But apart from the elephant of his childhood, the one closest to his heart is Gita, a female elephant who lives in Kaziranga National Park.
“Once when I went to the United States, I heard that someone had shot Gita in Kaziranga National Park,” he said. Fortunately, none of the five bullets hurt his vital organs, but I was very upset.
He added that he was thinking of canceling his visit to India.
“But instead I helped Gita on the phone.” As soon as he returned to India a week later, he went straight to the park to meet Gita.
“I assured him that I would treat Gita well and that I would remove all the bullets from his body. I surgically removed the first three bullets after detecting the bullets with a metal detector.
He says the other two bullets were in the depths of his body, making it difficult to remove them. “But I continued my treatment and finally removed the last bullet from his body after five surgeries. My dear Gita is still alive and very healthy.
Although Dr. Sarma loves his job, he knows there are many dangers involved.
He says he has risked his life many times for this responsibility. ‘I often wonder how I survived.’
“I once spent a whole night on a tree treating a wild elephant to anesthetize it with drugs.”
But despite all these dangers, Dr. Kashal Kanwar Sarma says his work has been satisfactory. He hopes to impress his daughter, who has a degree in veterinary science and often helps with her work.
“I want my daughter to take care of the elephants after me.”