Raja of Rajaji, jumbo rescued in 1992, dies in wild tusker attack (State of Uttarakhand, India)


Seema Sharma,The Times of India

Date Published

DEHRADUN: Khalil Rahman, a mahout in Rajaji Tiger Reserve (RTR), had left with his family for Eid at Kotdwar for just a day. On Saturday, he was back at the reserve, grieving. His elephant, Raja, practically family for him, was no more, killed in a brutal attack by a wild tusker that broke into the elephant enclosure on Friday night.

Raja became the darling of forest staff at the reserve after being found as a little calf wandering near the railway tracks that pass through RTR in 1992. His mother and two males were found dead nearby, hit by a passing train. “Since then he was brought up with great affection here and named after the reserve. The 27-year-old was with his mahout Rahman since 2001,” said RTR director Sanatan Sonkar.

On Friday night, a 45-year-old tusker in musth broke into the enclosure looking for a mate. Finding Raja, the wild elephant considered the younger tame one a threat and attacked him. Raja, who was in chains, could not defend himself properly and was severely injured.

“In the early hours of the morning, Raja showed some signs of recovery and strolled around a bit, before collapsing. He waved goodbye to his female friend, Radha, by touching her forehead with his trunk before he died,” said Sonkar. The post mortem report revealed that Raja’s lungs had been punctured, causing death, the director added.

“Raja was like my own child. He would walk to my house just a few metres from the enclosure whenever I called out to him. My children would play with him and he would reciprocate with gestures. He would eat whatever my family gave him between his regular meals. He was never moody, always gentle. He would listen to the commands in every situation. I can only regret that I was not there when he needed me the most,” said Rahman, in tears.

Besides the mahout, Rajaji officials and staff too offered garlands and an emotional farewell to the elephant. 

However, Rajiv Mehta, former honourary wildlife warden of RTR raised some uncomfortable questions. “The elephant compound is properly guarded, with several families of mahouts and staff living nearby. It is surprising that they did not come to Raja’s rescue. Besides an outer wall, a wide trench had also been dug outside it. This had filled up with slush and vegetation in the monsoon and not been cleared. This made it easy for the wild elephant to break in,” he said.

Sonkar defended his staff, saying they could not hear the commotion due to the heavy rain on Friday night. “When they did, they managed to push the tusker out, but by then Raja had been severely injured. No method has worked as an effective deterrent to wild elephants,” he added.