In Odisha forest, tusker hobbles with a tyre, officers on its heels (India)


Debabrata Mohanty, Indian Express

Date Published

Forest officials in Odisha will spend the next full moon night waiting
in silence, as still as possible, for an elephant to make an
appearance at the Chandaka-Dompada wildlife sanctuary. The moonlit
night, they hope, will finally give them a chance to tranquilise the
13-year-old tusker, to rid it of its misery.

It’s been a month and a half now since an unused scooter tyre got
stuck in the tusker’s left front leg. Officials say it has since been
trying to rid itself of the tyre, and has strayed around two forest
divisions of Odisha, in the process getting separated from its herd.

All attempts to stun the elephant and remove the tyre have failed.

Officials first discovered the tyre on the tusker, part of a herd in
the Sukasan area of Athagarh forest division, in January. They
stumbled upon it by accident, after the animal stood for unusually
long in a canal in the forest. Officials say it may have been trying
to ease the tyre off.

They last came closest to getting a good shot at the elephant with the
tranquiliser dart on January 24, but the tusker suddenly charged at
them. It caught hold of forest guard Pramod Nayak, tossed him around
and left him seriously injured. Nayak is now out of hospital.

With the tyre stuck on its leg and badly limping, the elephant
travelled 10-12 km and crossed into the Chandaka-Dompada Wildlife
Sanctuary, located on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, a month ago.

“As the inner side of the tyre has a metal wire, it must be scraping
against its flesh, causing wounds. It is a huge discomfort for the
tusker in performing its daily chores,” says Gauhar Abedin, former
honorary wildlife warden of the Puri wildlife division.

Odisha Chief Wildlife Warden Siddhant Das says a dozen-odd forest
officials have been tracking the elephant constantly, along with
tribal trackers assembled from the five hamlets inside the sanctuary,
and transquilising specialists. The tribal trackers can smell the
presence of an elephant from far.

“Though we are able to see the elephant off and on, it’s not for long
enough to fire the transquiliser dart. Every day, our teams go out.
The transquiliser dart has to strike in the elephant’s abdominal
muscle,” says Das. “Once we are able to transquilise it, we won’t need
much time to remove the tyre and treat its wounds. Once it is injected
with tranquliser chemicals, the animal will stand still for four-five

Thankfully, wildlife officials say, despite its wounds, the elephant
doesn’t seem to be in much pain. Kedar Swain, the divisional forest
officer of the Chandaka-Dompara wildlife division, says they haven’t
noticed any blood. Swain adds that they are also hopeful of the
elephant wearing the tyre thin enough to tear away. “It is trying
valiantly. We can see that a large part of the tyre has worn off due
to it brushing it against trees. If it pushes a little harder, the
tyre will go.”

On Thursday and Friday, Swain ventured into the forest along with
Professor Dr Indramani Nath, a veteran veterinary professor of the
Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, hoping to catch the
elephant at some of the watering holes in the 193-sq km sanctuary
area. They scoured the area around the Jhumuka reservoir but the
elephant didn’t come.

Swain says he is surprised at how the elephant largely remains out of
sight within the undergrowth of the sanctuary, including avoiding
water bodies. “A full-grown elephant needs at least 200 litres of
water a day and has to come to a water body every day. There are small
streams inside the sanctuary and it’s possible the tusker is taking
its quota of water from there. The elephant was originally from
Chandaka and thus knows the territory very well,” he says.

Surath Jena, of Daspur village inside the sanctuary, says it hasn’t
bothered the human habitations so far. “The elephant is not raiding
crops or attacking people like some other elephants,” he says.

Swain is thinking of revising their strategy now and cutting the size
of the team trailing the elephant to a minimum. Their best hope is
March 12 night, he adds. “Earlier, we were trying to chase the
elephant out and then tranquilise it. Now we are waiting for that full
moon night so that we can see it clearly and possibly tranquilise.”