Maharashtra forest dept sedates ‘rebellious leader’, brings seven runaway elephants back to camp (India)


The Indian Express

Date Published


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Bringing the curtains down on a 16-day drama of seven elephants disappearing from their camp at Kamlapur in Sironcha, a team of forest staffers, mahuts and veterinary doctors managed to bring the herd’s rebellious leader back on Wednesday, after sedating him with “standing anaesthesia” on July 25.

Forest officials said this was probably the first such operation in the state where the 13-foot tall, 5-tonne elephant was sedated while standing. The task was done by a team of veterinary doctors led by Ravikant Khobragade, deep in the Kolamarka forest.

“Ajit, aged about 22 years, is the alpha male of the herd consisting of three males, three females and a baby fathered by Ajit. He is known for his rebellious mood swings and had killed a mahut in 2013. We set the herd free at night to roam the forest for food and bring them back to camp the next morning. On July 12, Ajit didn’t allow the herd to be taken back, and charged at the mahuts and other forest staffers. So, we planned the operation to retrieve them, at the centre of which was controlling Ajit,” said Deputy Conservator of Forest Prabhunath Shukla. The Kamlapur elephant camp was set up in 2011 after the decade-old teak log transport by elephants had to stopped due to the Naxal menace. Since then, the elephants are being maintained at a cost of Rs 5 lakh annually.

On July 23, a 20-strong team of senior Forest officials led by Shukla, three mahuts, two fodder cutters and four veterinary doctors,including Sandip Chhonkar, Nilesh Khalate and Sachin Khemalapure, reached the forest where the herd had strayed.They managed to chain the six elephants but not Ajit, who continued to behave aggressively and wouldn’t allow the rescuers to take the herd away. “So, we decided to sedate him. We hid in a culvert and waited. It was a challenge to sedate him with standing anaesthesia, but we finally managed it on July 25, with forest guard Amol Kowase darting the animal. It took us over 40 minutes to chain Ajit in a standing posture. While he remained sedated, the rest of the herd was brought back to the camp,” said Khobragade.

Ajit was left with chains on his feet for two days in the forest. He was brought back to camp on Wednesday. “Today, he betrayed no aggression and obeyed the mahut to return to the camp,” Shukla said.