Living a royal life- Bijuli Prasad in Assam is the world's oldest Asiatic Elephant. Tuskers in the wild tend to live a shorter lifespan than in captivity and Parsad must be around 86-year-old, said one of the 118 Padma Shri awardees announced for the year 2020- Dr Kushal Konwar Sharma.
A professor and head at the Department of Surgery and Radiology of the College of Veterinary Science at Khanapara in Guwahati, Dr Sharma has worked extensively in Indonesia and India on pachyderms. Bijuli Prasad as his master, Oliver Sahib from England who christened him when he was bought by the Magor Tea Estates of Assam is hale and hearty, unlike many of its age who have not survived to see this day.
A privileged member, Prasad enjoys royal hospitality at Bihali Tea Estate of Magor Group in Sonitpur district, Assam. The male tusker has a huge built and moves with the majestic élan in the lush green tea bushes of the estate.
In 1968, the Borgang Tea Company bought Prasad and was involved in uprooting old tea bushes and other works. The elephant was put on salary, which was exceptional at the time, and from that salary, the wages for the mahout were cut, his food and medicine paid for and a pension started.
Prasad stayed in Borgang, as an active and productive member of the extended Magor family. Post-retirement, Prasad continues to live a royal life. The management has arranged two keepers for Bijuli in the company's payroll, doctors check his health and weight every week, along with a proper king-size three meals a day. The health updates of the jumbo needs to be sent to the company’s head office at Kolkata every week where the records are kept. Now, Prasad weighs around 400 kgs.
“Every day we need 25 kilograms of rice, equal portions of maize, grams and molasses to feed Bijuli. Besides we arrange truckloads of plantain trunks gathered for the labour lines for the elephant. Every month there is an expenditure of thirty to thirty-five thousand to keep our pride healthy and kicking fit” says Rajit Baruah, an employee of Bihali tea estate in Biswanath district of Assam.
Unlike Assam, Elephants in Kerala are robust and are fed on coconut leaves and Palm oil. Elephants there tend to live longer, almost stretching up to seventy to seventy five years. Albeit the feeding habits are different in Assam but in Prasad’s case, Dr Sharma advised that the banana stems should be chopped in pieces and served so that Prasad can digest it well with its degenerated molars.
Besides, vitamins and added nutrition is also provided in abundance and possibly it’s due to this care Bijuli could recuperate eight years back and is healthy till today, added Dr Sharma who visits Bijuli frequently to conduct health check-up.
Prasad was brought to Bihali tea estate in 2018 from Borgang, along with Thomas Murmu the Adivasi mahut (keeper) of the elephant. Thomas’s father was the keeper of the elephant when it was bought by the Magor group and after he expired Thomas took care. “Bijuli is my life and my employment in the tea garden is to look after it. It’s for Bijuli that I can feed my family and my father used to look after him. Now when he is no more I find my father in Bijuli” said Thomas Murmu who has been taking care of Prasad for the past 20 years.
Earlier, Dakshayani- the 88-year-old captive elephant in Kerala was considered to be the oldest in India and even Asia. As per the survey conducted, north-eastern India's wild elephant population was calculated at 10,139- nearly 25 per cent of the total Asian Elephant (Elephas Maximus) stock. Of which 5,719 are found in Assam, 1,754 in Meghalaya, and 1,614 in Arunachal Pradesh, the three major elephant-range states
Assam also has the country's highest number of captive elephants and most of them are being used in the state’s forest departments.