Jumbo question: Life or death for ailing Sidda? (India)


Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu

Date Published

See link for photo.

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, since its injury, been confined to the banks of the reservoir for 57 days.

Just one leg seems to have the energy to undertake a futile attempt at scooping muck across its immense, heaving torso; while its trunk lugubriously rolls around towards puddles of water. The foreleg is visibly swollen as its wound festers. Behind it, the Forest Department has set up a camp with at least eight personnel, including veterinarians. In shifts, they spray water on Sidda to keep it cool on warm days.

On August 30, while being chased by villagers on the outskirts of Bengaluru, Sidda fell into a ditch. It was given treatment and escorted back to the Savandurga Reserve Forest. However, crippled with severe pain, on September 11, the elephant was spotted again floating in the backwaters of the reservoir. 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.

Huge gathering

The plight of the elephant has sparked unprecedented outpouring of public sympathy. On holidays, thousands gather to catch a glimpse of the elephant; religious rituals are held for its recovery; visitors bring with them vegetables, fruits, fodder, sugarcane and fruits which account for nearly a quarter of the 150 kg consumed by the tusker; Ayurveda doctors and hospitals have offered formulations for treatment; MLAs, MPs, State Ministers and even Union Minister Maneka Gandhi have enquired about Sidda, while other groups have staged protests demanding “effective” treatment.

However, it is becoming clear that 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 that 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.

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

‘Let nature decide’

Officials say 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 the NGO Wildlife SOS 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 to shift the weight from the fore leg. If we prop up Sidda, he can perhaps recover better,” he says.

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

The idea, however, is subsumed by community passions. “It churns our stomach to see the suffering. But euthanasia is not an option. When people are sick in the hospital, the family is ready to spend lakhs on treatment. The same should be for our Sidda,” says Shivamma, from the nearby village of Dubbaguli.

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 been killed; while, yearly, more than 10 elephants are electrocuted or shot.

On the day farmer Muni Narasayya from Bhantrakuppe visited Sidda, his 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 it was immediate intervention that had saved his leg.

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,” he says.