Fourteen-year old Nirmala Toppo of Jharkhand became a celebrity in Odisha after BBC aired her story on their Hindi channel.
“In June, panic gripped the industrial city of Rourkela one night when a herd of wild elephants entered residential areas from dense forests nearby. Nirmala, forest department officials say, acted as a real-life “pied-piper” when she managed to drive the herd back to the forest, much to the relief of the residents”; BBC reports.
Report further says Nirmala walked many miles with the herd, guiding it out of town, in the process getting blisters on her legs which later turned septic.
State forest department officials sought help from Nirmala, who is originally from the neighbouring state of Jharkhand, when they could not get the elephants to leave the city.
BBC quotes forest official PK Dhola: “When the herd entered the city, we tried our best to contain its movement. There were 11 of them, including two calves. We managed to make the herd go into the local football stadium, but we were not sure how we could drive them back to the forest. It was a difficult task;” Dhola says.
“We knew of a tribal girl who lived in Jharkhand, who talked to elephants and was able to drive them back. We called up her father and she arrived along with some other tribal people from her village.”
The herd was made to go into the local football stadium in Rourkela. The state government paid the girl for her services, Dhola added.
Nirmala says she talks to the herd in her local tribal dialect – Mundaari – and persuades the animals to “return to where they belong”.
“First I pray and then talk to the herd. They understand what I say. I tell them this is not your home. You should return where you belong,” says Nirmala.
Her mother, she says, was killed by wild elephants and that was when she decided to learn the technique to drive them away. In her work, she is assisted by her father and a group of boys from her village. “We surround the herd. Then I go near them and pray and talk to them.”
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