It’s Murder (Bangladesh)


Inam Ahmed, The Daily Star

Date Published


See link for photo.

The day he floated into Bangladesh from Assam more than two weeks ago, his fate was sealed.

He was helpless and angry, traumatised and terrorized, lonely and friendless, harassed and harangued. He was missing his family and friends and the place he drifted in from — his own home. After all elephants are among the most intelligent animals.

The experience of tossing and turning in the great waters of the Brahmaputra in this full monsoon must have been heavy on him. He looked dazed and tired.

But he finally found his footing and tried to live, eating the bits and pieces he could find.

Then after a long wait, the forest department decided to “rescue” the animal but failed.

The net result — death of the animal.

We would like to call it a murder, plain and simple. Here is why.

Some 30 years ago, Dr Reza Khan rescued an elephant, which fell into a ditch, with the help of university students and locals. We have the experience of recovering tiger cubs in recent times and successfully saving their lives. These were possible because of expert help.

But this time we find an amateurish approach by the forest department people. They tranquilised the elephant, not once but twice and probably thrice. The last two tranquilization attempts were made within 24 hours.

No international protocol says an animal as weak as the elephant was should be tranquilised twice in 24 hours. It is now obvious that the weak animal could not take the tranqulisers and died.

It is also beyond our understanding why it had to be shot twice. Why this risk of tranquilising him twice was taken?  This was a big mistake.

But once it was shot, there was no preparation for its rescue. An elephant is not a tiger that it could be easily carried. So, all the preparations had to be in place before it was tranquilised. Why was that preparation not in  place?

What we find in Zimbabwe and other African countries is that they use heavy belts and straps to be put round animals once they are put to sleep and then lift them by cranes or helicopters.

Our forest department used chains and ropes. These are certainly not the implements to employ to rescue an elephant. The chains and ropes would have dug deep into the animal’s flesh and caused it to die.

This is probably why the forest department did not remove it once it went to sleep.

Elephants have a large body and so they need a lot of effort to keep themselves cool. That’s why they constantly fan themselves with large ears and often immerse their bodies in waterholes.

Once the elephant was tranquilised, it just lay on its side. We have not seen any effort to keep it cool. In this monsoon heat, it dehydrated and overheated. And so its heart, weak from the heavy doses of sedatives, stopped beating.

What else can this be called other than a murder?

Now we do not know if the forest department took the institutional steps when it came to removing the animal. Was the wildlife advisory board informed and taken advice of? A big project on elephants is already in place in Bangladesh. Were the project officials involved? We know IUCN staff went to the spot. So what did they do? What was their advice? Did we try to contact any international oirganisation such as Elephant Care International?

Were our local experts called to the rescue?

We also have no idea if proper dose of tranquiliser was applied and if antidotes were administered as was required.

So what else could be done other than tranquilising the animal?

There were many other choices, actually.

First of all, Dr Monirul H Khan, a wildlife expert and professor of Jahangirnagar University, says the elephant could be scared into the Indian territory. Torches could be lighted and drums beat and crackers exploded to scare the elephant into the territory it came from immediately after it was reported.  This way it could return to its own habitat.

If the current in the river was a problem, the elephant should have been given food and officials could have bid time until the monsoon was over. It could have been tranquilised once it had regained its strength, Dr Anisuzzaman Khan, a field biologist who studied elephants, said.

Alternatively, Dr Anisuzzaman says, the old practice of Kheda or enclosure to capture wild elephants could be applied. The elephant could have been harried into the Kheda and captured.

So we see a great deal of callous approach to “rescue” the elephant, which instead cut its life short.

We call it a murder, plain and simple.