Is Sidda paying the price for our sensibilities? (Bengaluru, India)

Date Published

The narrow, uneven and dusty road that skirts the sprawling Manchanabele Reservoir in Karnataka has seen unusually busy traffic over the past month. The attraction is Sidda, a 35-year-old elephant, which has been confined to the banks of the reservoir for the past 57 days due to a leg injury.

Just one leg seems to have the energy to undertake the futile attempt at scooping muck across its immense, heaving torso. Its trunk lugubriously reaches out to the puddles of water nearby. The fore leg is visibly swollen and the wound festers.

A few feet away, the Forest Department has set up a camp for at least eight personnel, including veterinarians. They take turns to spray water on Sidda to keep the animal cool on warm days.

Sidda fell into a ditch on August 30 while being chased by villagers on the outskirts of Bengaluru. The Forest Department attended to its injury and escorted it back to the Savandurga Reserve Forest.

However, crippled by severe pain, on September 11, the elephant was spotted floating in the backwaters of the reservoir. With each passing day, its condition deteriorated, and for the past fortnight, it has been recumbent and immobile. The list of ailments is long: compound fracture, septicemia, partial blindness, dehydration, swelling of the leg and anaemia.

Unprecedented outpouring of sympathy

The plight of the elephant has triggered an unprecedented outpouring of public sympathy. On holidays, thousands gather to catch a glimpse of the elephant; visitors bring vegetables, fruits, fodder and sugarcane, which account for nearly a quarter of the 150 kg of eatables consumed by the tusker every day; people pray for its recovery; ayurveda doctors and hospitals have offered formulations for treatment; local MLAs, MPs, Ministers and even Union Minister Maneka Gandhi keep enquiring about his well-being while some groups have staged protests demanding ‘effective’ treatment.

However, as the elephant’s suffering continues, the clamour for a humane end — euthanasia — is increasing. Euthanasia is allowed under Section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, when an animal is ‘disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery’.

Elephant experts believe a compound fracture in heavy animals is nearly irrecoverable. Forest Department veterinarians say on record that Sidda has a 30 per cent chance of recovery while in private they say the figure is closer to zero.

“Prolonging the treatment makes a mockery of veterinary practices. Elephants rest most of their weight on their fore leg, and a compound fracture there will not heal. Treating Sidda now is torture… Just because 1 in 100 elephants can recover, it doesn’t mean the remaining 99 have to be tortured,” says Ajay Desai, member, Project Elephant Steering Committee.

Forest Department officials have said public pressure has made the decision nearly impossible and they would now ‘let nature decide’.

One self-proclaimed animal rights activist from the United States has threatened to cancel her donation to an NGO if it does not euthanise. “You chose to take credit for “helping” Sidda and to bask in the glory… and now there is no glory for Sidda and there is no comfort for him as he lies dying a horrible, painful death,” she says in her online post.

However, Arun A. Sha, veterinary officer of Wildlife SOS, an NGO, who has been treating Sidda, says it is premature to think of euthanasia. “It is still showing traits of a wild elephant and moving its trunk and hind leg. It is in pain, but we are providing pain killers…We have just received permission to make an apparatus that can help shift the weight from the fore leg. If we prop him up, he can perhaps recover better,” he says.

Dileep Kumar Das, Chief Conservator of Forests (Project Elephant), says, “We will continue to treat the elephant the best that we can… If experts decide on euthanasia, we can form a committee to look into it.”

The idea, however, rankles the sensibilities of the common man.

“It churns our stomach to see the suffering. But euthanasia is not an option. When people are sick, the family is ready to spend lakhs on treatment. The same should be done for our Sidda,” says Shivamma, from the nearby village of Dubbaguli, who came to Manchanabele with vessels filled with large home-made ragi mudde (boiled finger millets).

Sympathy amid conflict

The irony of the love for Sidda seems to be lost in the State, which sees an unending, escalating conflict between humans and elephants. In the past three years, around 105 people have died. Every year, more than 10 elephants are electrocuted or shot. On the day Muni Narasayya, a farmer from Bhantrakuppe, visited Sidda, fellow villagers had threatened to shoot five elephants — led by ‘Rowdy Ranga’ — if they were not driven away. ‘Rowdy Ranga’ was shot once before and his leg was saved only due to immediate medical intervention.

Asian Elephant researcher Surendra Varma believes the ‘signals’ sent out by Sidda and Ranga need to be understood if the State wants better conservation. “There has to be understanding of the root causes of these elephants coming out of protected areas. Mitigation measures have not been up to the mark while cropping patterns which attract elephants have not been addressed… the tolerance levels of affected villages go lower,” he says.