Stranded Indian Elephant Dies of Heart Attack, Ending a Wretched Journey (Bangladesh)


Hari Kumaraug, New York Times

Date Published


See link for VIDEO and photo.
A wild Indian elephant that attracted worldwide attention after being swept hundreds of miles down a flood-swollen river into Bangladesh died on Tuesday of a heart attack, Bangladeshi officials said.

The animal’s death was brought on by “a long period of stress, heat and humidity,” said Mustafizur Rahman, a veterinary surgeon who supervised the treatment of the elephant last week in northern Bangladesh.

The death brought an end to a sad journey.

Caught in the rising waters of the Brahmaputra River in late June, the elephant, a fully grown male, tried repeatedly to climb ashore in India, but villagers drove him back into the water, in some cases pelting him with stones, said K. K. Sarma, a government veterinary surgeon from India who visited the animal.

“It tried to come up, but it was not allowed to,” he said.

Officials said the animal had traveled 900 miles.

The elephant was caught in the raging Brahmaputra River in June and carried far downstream, where it eventually crossed the border into the wetlands of Bangladesh. Video by News BD

Scrambling to land in a swampy district of Bangladesh on June 28, the elephant trudged through the marshes in search of food, becoming dehydrated. News crews arrived, and so many curiosity-seekers trailed him through the swamps that the police were deployed to control them, the Press Trust of India reported.

On Thursday, the elephant was tranquilized repeatedly with a dart gun and collapsed, unconscious, into a swamp. Villagers helped haul him onto dry land, and he was bound with ropes and chains. Images from the scene showed the nine-foot, four-ton animal lying in a muddy field, surrounded by onlookers.

As the elephant weakened, the site took on the festive feeling of a village fair: Mothers held up their children for a better view and vendors sold snacks.

The animal eventually broke free of the ropes and chains, and he began wandering nearby villages before veterinarians decided to tranquilize him again, said Tapan Kumar Dey, chief executive of Bangladesh’s Nature Conservation Society.

“It was not our plan to dart him, but the situation bound us,” he said, adding that he believed that the elephant had contracted pneumonia during the 45 days he spent wandering the swamp.

“The crowd wanted to have a closer look at him all the time,” Mr. Dey said. “That was also a problem.”

Mr. Sarma, the veterinarian dispatched from India, said he believed the elephant died of heatstroke after two unusually hot and humid days in Bangladesh. He said there was no choice but to chain the animal, lest he destroy the homes or crops of local residents.

“What to do? There was no alternative,” Mr. Sarma said. “You need to save people and property.”

The animal’s death was not for lack of attention: Bangladeshi newspapers named the animal “Bangabahadur,” which can be loosely translated as “Hero of Bengal,” and Indian news media had been pressing for the animal to be repatriated.

“Our media created a havoc for us,” said Mr. Sarma, whose team was sent by the Indian government to advise Bangladesh on how best to handle the elephant. “In Bangladesh, the media was asking us, ‘Under what international act have you come to take the elephant to India?’”

His delegation spent three days on site with the elephant before returning to India after Bangladeshi authorities warned that there were security threats in the area.

After he was tranquilized, the elephant was given more than three gallons of saline water intravenously, but he crashed to the ground a second time on Monday, Dr. Rahman said. He added that the elephant had dangerously high blood pressure and an imbalance of sodium and potassium in his body.

Forestry officials had hoped to use domestic elephants to guide the elephant to the nearest road, at which point he could have been loaded onto a truck and returned to the hill country of Assam in eastern India.

After the elephant’s death, some of his internal organs were removed and sent to a government laboratory for analysis.