Pandyan, the keeper of Western Lowland gorilla Polo, who died 10 days ago, returned to duty on Thursday, much to the relief of Mysore Zoo staff. Sources at the zoo said Pandyan had gone into severe depression since the death of Polo, who was assigned to him 10 years ago.
Co-workers were first concerned about Pandyan, 55, after he left Polo’s funeral on Sunday, informing them that he “might resort to drinking”, which he hadn’t done in over five months.
On Tuesday night, they said Pandyan abruptly called them and said he was embarking on a day’s pilgrimage to Subramanya temple in Dakshina Kannada.
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“We requested him not to venture alone in this state and offered to accompany him, but he would not agree and said he had already boarded the bus,” Ramesh, Pandyan’s assistant in the gorilla enclosure, said.
Pandyan was regarded by all his co-workers as a spirited man who would often arrive early for his shift and leave late. He was tasked with taking care of Polo in 2004.
During his final days, his co-workers said, Pandyan refused to leave the side of the 140-kg animal.
At Polo’s burial, one of the keepers said, he kept running his hands over the animal as though he were still alive and would respond to him.
Born in Salem district of Tamil Nadu, Pandyan left his elementary education midway and moved to Mysore with his brother Teriswami in 1982. He was first employed as a parking attendant, but in 1999 was shifted to the animal section.
“Since then, I have guarded the enclosure of almost all sorts of animals, but Polo was an animal that I looked after for a long period. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why I was attached to him,” Pandyan said on Thursday.
Pandyan stays with his wife and three children near the zoo. Following Polo’s death, Pandyan has been reassigned to the chimpanzee enclosure.