Of course you can learn from a mahout how to handle people

Anjana Sankar
Filed on April 27, 2017 | Last updated on April 27, 2017 at 07.55 pm
If you are in Abu Dhabi, Emirates Park Zoo in Al Bahia, which is a 35-minute drive from the city centre, could be a good place to start.
If you are in Abu Dhabi, Emirates Park Zoo in Al Bahia, which is a 35-minute drive from the city centre, could be a good place to start.

(Photo by Ryan Lim/Khaleej Times)

For those struggling with the basics, my advice is, head to a zoo! Yes, Zoo.

Wooing your lady love is a painstaking affair. Historically, men have slain demons, crossed mountains and swum oceans to do so.

But that is history. Today, the art of wooing is dying, or so goes the word.

For those struggling with the basics, my advice is, head to a zoo! Yes, Zoo.

If you are in Abu Dhabi, Emirates Park Zoo in Al Bahia, which is a 35-minute drive from the city centre, could be a good place to start.

Meet Dumisani Mudenda, 38, the elephant caretaker who has perfected the art of wooing.Of course you can learn from a mahout how to handle people (KT11597427.JPG)

JUMBO MUMBO: Dumisani Mudenda is the elephant caretaker who has perfected the art of wooing. He's trained 35 elephants. Only one didn't like him, he says.-Photos by Ryan Lim/Khaleej Times

His current objects of love are Radu and Madu, the beastly sisters from India. He has been with them for just over six months. But their PDA is on full display. He hugs and caresses them, feeds them, sweet-talks to them. His patience: their devotion; his care: their trust - they make for poignant lessons for those willing to learn.

"Taming an elephant is exactly like wooing a woman. They will play hard to get. But you win them over ultimately with loads of patience and care."

"Can you dare touch a woman without first winning her trust? You invite her out on dates, give her flowers, shower her with compliments and gifts, right? It is the same with elephants. I have to woo them, romance them and train them to love me the way I want them to."

Mudenda fell in love 17 years ago, and he is still going strong. It all began when he took up a job with Wild Horizon, an elephant safari company in Zimbabwe in 2001. "I was working with baby elephants who were orphans. Their mothers got killed by poachers and in other accidents. I became like their parent. The bond of love that I had with those little beasts was incredible," said Mudenda.

From 2007 onwards, he has been working with the big elephants specialising in animal care, training and management.

He says winning over an elephant takes three essential steps: Taming, training and handling.

"I prefer to train elephants who are between seven and 11 years old. They are impressionable; easy to train. But it is impossible to train elephants who are born in captivity because they will follow only their mothers."

And taming and training can take two to three years depending on how tough the elephant is.

"Some are easy. Some will rebel. Training them to follow instructions also depends on whether they are slow or quick learners."

When I quizzed him further about his bond with the elephants, Mudenda drew another parallel - this time, between marriage and elephants.

"The moment you take your wife for granted, your marriage will start falling apart. To be a good husband, you have to sense her moods, understand her needs and act accordingly. My job is just the same. Even if the elephant is trained, there are still more facets to explore and learn about the animal." In short, the training aka wooing never ends.

Mudenda said out of the nearly 35 elephants he has tamed and trained, he has failed only once.

"There was this 12-year-old boy Deka, who hated me. While training him, I fell down and he tried to needle me with his tusk. But luckily, I escaped," said Mudenda lifting his t-shirt and showing the deep-wounds in his neck and arms.

But that sounds like the job is risky! "For me, it is like any other job. Some people drive cars for a living. Some fly airplanes. Others do construction. Being an elephant trainer is only as risky as any other job," says Mudenda, who is married and has two kids.

But one thing he cannot afford in his job is to be careless. "You have to be alert all the time, even if you know the elephant well."

But isn't it the same with your wife or girlfriend?

Anjana is a humanist. Her cluttered desk is not indicative of her state of mind

anjana@khaleejtimes.com