Jungle Book: Rowdy Ranga and his gang of 11! (Bannerghatta National Park, India)


Shriven Regret Iyer, Deccan Herald

Date Published


See link for photo of Ranga.
It’s an all-male gang of eleven adults that have stuck together for years. And as such gangs go, they are a wild bunch, seizing the needs and pleasures of life at will. They raid their own special places for food and water, and they hang out where they know the females frequent. No, we are not talking about a gang of men, we are talking elephants.

Meet Rowdy Ranga, a 35-year-old tusker and his gang of eleven male elephants. It’s an uncommon herd that lives life jumbo-size. Not only has this gang created a new corridor of its own over the last 17 years along which it raids crops, but the gang has also turned Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) into its own breeding ground, mating with captive female elephants when they are left to roam free at night in the Bannerghatta forest limits.

Asiatic and African elephants generally live in a matriarchal society. Here, the oldest female heads the group and daughters remain in the herd. The male calf, after being raised by its mother, is sent out of the clan and has to find another clan for itself. It’s an evolutionary trait that prevents in-breeding. When the young males are thus displaced, they tend to form temporary “bachelor’s groups” until they can join another clan. There’s usually a ‘waiting period’ for that because they are allowed to join a clan only when it needs a male member, which in turn depends on the number of females that are ready to mate. Male elephants, being solitary creatures by nature, tend to join a clan, mate and then go their solitary way again.

What makes Ranga and his gang uncommon is that they are male elephants that probably never got entry into clans. Instead, they teamed up and found their own way to a comfortable life – actually, by taking advantage of government policies and development work!

Here’s the back story: Elephant herds usually move along corridors that their elders and ancestors have walked for decades, if not centuries. Most elephants stick to these corridors even when conditions change and water and food become scarce. It was the situation in the 1990s as the state passed through a drought cycle. In 1997, the state government decided to channelise the Hemavathi river, and water bodies in its wake started filling up.

Soon, the belt where once only ragi could be grown became suitable for paddy and banana plantation. This rich source of food and water was discovered by a tusker that went off the beaten track, so to say. It was this tusker and another that befriended young Ranga when he was looking for a clan, sometime in 1999, and showed him the riches.

It’s a route that now stretches along Bannerghatta, Kaggalipura, BM Kaval, Roerich Estate, Nice Road Junction, Kumbalgodu, Savandurga, Shivagange, Antargange, Dabaspet and the main town of Tumakuru.

“Elephants had never walked this stretch before. But these three made it their stomping ground”, says Avinash Krishnan, a researcher with A Rocha India, a conservation group in Bannerghatta, part of the international A Rocha organisation. Ranga soon became leader of the group and recruited other elephants. While the two older tuskers seem to have moved away, Ranga’s gang grew to 11-strong, raiding crops and hiding in the large water bodies at night.    
Ranga has also found a way around the tuskers’ inability to get into clans and mate. If the gang can’t reach the females, they will wait for the females to come to them!    

Ranga’s gang

Ranga – 35 years (leader)
Makhna – 32 years
2 unnamed elephants – 20-25 years
7 unnamed young tuskers – 15-20 years

“This group has made Bannerghatta National Park their breeding ground,” Krishnan says. The national park authorities let their captive elephants out to roam at night to help them de-stress. That’s a group with 17 females. Ranga and gang lie in wait for them.

Ranga has become a cause for worry now because he’s recruiting more elephants from both the eastern part of Bannerghatta, which connects to North Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, and the western part of Bannerghatta, which is a continuous forest that stretches from Cauvery Wildllife Sanctuary in Karnataka to Sangama, B.R. Hills, Male Mahadeshwara Hills and further. Crops along these stretches are under threat. Worse, it will inevitably make human-elephant conflicts more frequent and dangerous!