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Maharashtra’s first experiment to capture and domesticate wild elephants on rampage – one its most controversial strategies, too – will soon be put to test. The 40-year-old captured tusker Bhim, one of the three wild elephants who caused chaos in the Sindhudurg district in 2015, will be returning to the state, after completing its ‘domestication’ training in Karnataka.
“A wild elephant has been completely converted to a domestic elephant. This has happened for the first time in Maharashtra,” said MK Rao, Chief Conservator of Forests (Territorial), Kolhapur.
After Bhim completes the acclimatization process, the forest department will employ him for patrolling and carrying timber. He can also be utilised for driving away or capturing wild elephant herds in the future, officials said.
The forest department uses elephants for dragging timber in difficult areas and those with a tiger presence, typically in Vidarbha, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur, however, these elephants are offsprings of domesticated elephants.
Once Bhim reaches Maharashtra, he will spend three months acclimatising with state forest department’s mahout in the forests of Kolhapure Division and Sindhurg. If his employment is a success, the department will consider adopting the strategy in similar cases in the future.
Elephants from Karnataka often move to Sindhudurg and Kolhapur for food and water.
In February 2015, Maharashtra forest officials, with help from their Karnataka counterparts, captured three elephants, which had entered the state. Crop depredation and human deaths caused by the pachyderms in Sawantwadi, Dodamarg and Kudal caused intense resentment.
After being captured, the elephants were kept in a kraal (a wooden enclosure) in Mangaon, Raigad, but two tuskers died of shock in April that year, and Bhim was sent to an elephant camp near Mysuru for taming.
Activists had criticised the operation due to the trauma inflicted on the elephants, known to have a high emotional quotient.
Activist-journalist Vijay Palkar points about that when elephants first entered Sindhudurg in 2002, the devout worshiped their footprints (elephants are associated with Lord Ganesha). But repeated visits to human habitations at night for raiding banana trees, and the loss of lives coupled with low compensation for crop damage led to anger and festered fear among people. People burst crackers and drums to drive them away, leading to the upset animals attacking humans.
MAN-ELEPHANT CONFLICT IN SINDHUDURG
2002: Wild elephants enter Sindhudurg from Karnataka
2003: Elephants return, raid plantations
2004: State launches ‘Elephant Back To Home’ to drive elephants back to Karnataka, which fails
2005: Elephants routinely enter Maharashtra from this year on, measures like trenching fail
2009: Elephants trapped for translocation, a female and a calf die, two individuals released in Karnataka, but return
2015: Three elephants trapped, of which one named Bhim survives and is domesticated