Bangabahadur had almost made it home (Bangladesh/India)


Naresh Mitra|, Times of India

Date Published


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Guwahati: Perhaps he pined for his homeland; perhaps he felt his end was near. Little else would explain why Bangabahadur – the elephant from Assam which was swept away by the Brahmaputra to Bangladesh – had started walking homewards before succumbing to exhaustion and weakness.

When a three-member team from the state forest department reached Sharishabari Upazila (subdivision) in Jamalpur district in the neighbouring country on August 4, Bangabahadur was barely 80 km away from the India-Bangladesh border near Meghalaya’s Garo Hills.

In spite of surviving the flooded Brahmaputra and coping with the completely unfamiliar environment of swampy Jamalpur, the elephant had mustered the energy to walk another 120 km up to Sharishabari in what turned out to be the last few days of his life.

“Another 80 km and the animal would have entered India. We studied the elephant’s behaviour and found that he was instinctively moving homeward. Our first priority was to facilitate his passage to the Garo Hills where he could have joined another elephant herd,” said Kushal Konwar Sarma, a wildlife expert and one of the members of the rescue team.

Those 80 km proved to be too much for Bangabahadur. In spite of a sustained campaign by the expert team and Bangladesh’s forest officials since August 4, Bangabahadur succumbed to his struggle to reach home and died on August 16.

Sarma, who is also the head of the radiology and surgery department of the College of Veterinary Science here, said the animal might have died of a heat stroke.

“Unforgiving monsoon, the elephant’s ill health, the crowds which followed us everywhere and lack of infrastructure hampered our task of helping Bangabahadur move towards India,” Sarma said in his presentation to state forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma. The team returned to Guwahati on August 9 after failing to tranquillize the restless jumbo.

“We tried our best to prod him towards India. We even extended our stay by two days. We were supposed to leave Bangladesh on August 5 but we left on August 7,” Sarma rued.

The death of the elephant triggered a controversy in both Assam and Bangladesh. Many animal activists here questioned the need for repeated attempts at tranquillization.

“Many misconceptions are being spread about our task in Bangladesh. I want to make it clear that tranquillizing Bangabahadur was not our priority. We tried darting him only on August 6 after he began moving away from Sharishabari. The attempt failed and we left for India,” Sarma explained.

Bangabahadur’s journey might have ended in failure but what it did do was highlight the tremendous resilience of the mighty animal. Separated from his herd in Kaziranga in June, the jumbo travelled nearly 1,000 km to reach Bangladesh. There, too, he was always on the move, searching for food and safety amid constant disturbance created by a large and curious crowd.

Bangabahadur was finally tranquillized by Bangladesh’s forest officials on August 11. After the effects of the sedatives wore off, the jumbo tore off his chains, forcing the officials to dart it again on August 13.