At 60 year old, Rajan still enjoys taking a dip in the crystal waters off his island home--and he doesn't let the fact that he weighs as much as a large truck slow him down. In fact, Rajan the elephant, and his human swimming companion, Nasru, two years his junior, have become something of a tourist attraction on Havelock Island in the Indian Ocean. It was there, while floating gracefully amid the waves with the unlikely pair, that photographer Cesare Naldi snapped what would become a prize winning shot. But, as with most captivating photographs, there's more to their story than meets the eye.While nowadays Rajan spends his time swimming and relaxing on his island home, his life wasn't always so idyllic. According to a report from The Telegraph, the paddling pachyderm was originally brought to the island from the Indian mainland as a beast of burden, working with Nasru on a lumber operation before logging was banned eight years ago.
After that, most of the working elephants were sent off the island--but Rajan and Nasru opted for an early retirement on the island. Not even an enticing offer of almost $60 thousand for Rajan, made by a Hindu temple, could pull him away from the sand and surf--as a tourist campaign was organized to raise the funds to keep the famed elephant and his human companion around and swimming, often with paying tourists.
The aquatic adventures of Rajan and Nasru were little known beyond the island, located in a remote archipelago in the Bay of Bengal--that is until Italian photographer Cesare Naldi snapped the duo in action.
Naldi describes the experience to the Daily Mail:
I wanted to capture the intimacy of the relationship between Nasru and Rajan. When Rajan stepped into the clear blue sea I was already into the water, with my scuba diving equipment. He stayed for some time with his legs into the water, then he started to walk away from the shore. At some point when his feet lost contact with the sand he started to swim. I was really surprised by the speed of his legs and how he could actually swim.
Another thing that captured my attention was that he spent most of the time with his head underwater breathing just through his long nose, which looked like a periscope.
I never felt in danger, even if sometimes I got really close to his feet, which he was moving very fast, especially when I was taking the silhouette shot.
The photograph, showing Nasru perched upon Rajan's tusks,
took the top prize was selected as a Viewers' Choice favorite in the National Geographic International Photography contest last December, bringing with it worldwide attention for an elephant and man whose lives have been so intertwined.
Naldi says that he has found inspiration in the photograph, musing that "if an elephant can swim, what can't you do?" But, chances are, Nasru and Rajan are too busy enjoying the sand and sea to ponder such questions.
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