After spending two days trying to unsuccessfully lure Sunder, a wounded elephant, into a specialised truck to take him to the rehabilitation centre in Bangalore, the Kolhapur forest division has decided to let the reluctant animal rest for two to three days before the next attempt.
To help Sunder get into the truck, officials have dug a ditch and lowered the back end of the vehicle to allow the pachyderm to climb on to it through a special downward-sloping ramp. For the last two days, veterinary experts from Kerala as well as forest officials have been trying to entice Sunder into climbing on to the truck by placing bananas, jackfruits, pineapples, sugarcanes and some jaggery inside.
On one occasion, Sunder outwitted the officials by moving all the hay used to camouflage the metallic ramp. Feeling the hot metal underneath, it retreated from the ramp. On Monday evening, sudden rain and lightning and the resultant power-cut made the officials abort the mission.
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“The elephant is not ready to board the truck and we cannot force it. We just have to be patient,” said Vijay Shelke, Deputy Conservator of Forests.
The veterinarians and experts from Kerala, who were especially invited to accompany Sunder from Kolhapur to Bangalore, however, beg to differ. They opine that Sunder should be chemically immobilised before trying to get him into the truck, a practice they claim is common while dealing with elephants.
“We are against sedating the animal after our research revealed that sometimes animals not sedated properly tend to get aggressive and hurt themselves or others around. If something happens to Sunder, who will be responsible,” asked Dipak Jadhav, a local animal lover.
The large crowd and the vocal opposition from local animal lovers, mahout and onlookers to using sedative have put the forest department on the back foot.
Despite the vets’ strong recommendation to use mild sedation, the forest department has not even sought permission from the chief wildlife warden to use this method.
“We want to follow the protocol for elephant transfers that mentions the animal should be habitualised to the vehicle and not rushed into it. Right now, Sunder is scared of the sound of the truck and is not accepting the barricades. We cannot be sure that sedation won’t cause him shock or affect him adversely. We want to use a safe method versus a hasty, risky method,” said M K Rao, Chief Conservator of Forests, Kolhapur. “We have mentioned that the vets are suggesting sedating the animal in our report to the principal chief conservator of forests at Nagpur.”
The vets, in their official report, also stressed on the need to allow only government officials, the elephant squad and the mahout (if he is cooperating with the team members) to be present at the site as the large and heckling crowd was inhibiting operations.
The mahout, Hyder Mahat (22), said he was doing his best to encourage the elephant to enter the truck, but has suggested that the animal itself could sense something is amiss and does not want to leave.
The forest officials are rushing against time as the Supreme Court had on May 29 upheld the Bombay High Court’s judgment ordering Sunder’s release by June 15. They have to factor in the approaching monsoon too.