FOREST officials in Odisha will spend the next full moon night waiting in silence, as still as possible, for an elephant to make an appearance at the Chandaka-Dompada wildlife sanctuary. The moonlit night, they hope, will finally give them a chance to tranquilise the 13-year-old tusker, to rid it of its misery.
It’s been a month and a half now since an unused scooter tyre got stuck in the tusker’s left front leg. Officials say it has since been trying to rid itself of the tyre, and has strayed around two forest divisions of Odisha, in the process getting separated from its herd.
All attempts to stun the elephant and remove the tyre have failed.
Officials first discovered the tyre on the tusker, part of a herd in the Sukasan area of Athagarh forest division, in January. They stumbled upon it by accident, after the animal stood for unusually long in a canal in the forest. Officials say it may have been trying to ease the tyre off.
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They last came closest to getting a good shot at the elephant with the tranquiliser dart on January 24, but the tusker suddenly charged at them. It caught hold of forest guard Pramod Nayak, tossed him around and left him seriously injured. Nayak is now out of hospital.
With the tyre stuck on its leg and badly limping, the elephant travelled 10-12 km and crossed into the Chandaka-Dompada Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, a month ago.
“As the inner side of the tyre has a metal wire, it must be scraping against its flesh, causing wounds. It is a huge discomfort for the tusker in performing its daily chores,” says Gauhar Abedin, former honorary wildlife warden of the Puri wildlife division.
Odisha Chief Wildlife Warden Siddhant Das says a dozen-odd forest officials have been tracking the elephant constantly, along with tribal trackers assembled from the five hamlets inside the sanctuary, and transquilising specialists. The tribal trackers can smell the presence of an elephant from far.
“Though we are able to see the elephant off and on, it’s not for long enough to fire the transquiliser dart. Every day, our teams go out. The transquiliser dart has to strike in the elephant’s abdominal muscle,” says Das. “Once we are able to transquilise it, we won’t need much time to remove the tyre and treat its wounds. Once it is injected with tranquliser chemicals, the animal will stand still for four-five hours.”
Thankfully, wildlife officials say, despite its wounds, the elephant doesn’t seem to be in much pain. Kedar Swain, the divisional forest officer of the Chandaka-Dompara wildlife division, says they haven’t noticed any blood. Swain adds that they are also hopeful of the elephant wearing the tyre thin enough to tear away. “It is trying valiantly. We can see that a large part of the tyre has worn off due to it brushing it against trees. If it pushes a little harder, the tyre will go.”
On Thursday and Friday, Swain ventured into the forest along with Professor Dr Indramani Nath, a veteran veterinary professor of the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, hoping to catch the elephant at some of the watering holes in the 193-sq km sanctuary area. They scoured the area around the Jhumuka reservoir but the elephant didn’t come.
Swain says he is surprised at how the elephant largely remains out of sight within the undergrowth of the sanctuary, including avoiding water bodies. “A full-grown elephant needs at least 200 litres of water a day and has to come to a water body every day. There are small streams inside the sanctuary and it’s possible the tusker is taking its quota of water from there. The elephant was originally from Chandaka and thus knows the territory very well,” he says.
Surath Jena, of Daspur village inside the sanctuary, says it hasn’t bothered the human habitations so far. “The elephant is not raiding crops or attacking people like some other elephants,” he says.
Swain is thinking of revising their strategy now and cutting the size of the team trailing the elephant to a minimum. Their best hope is March 12 night, he adds. “Earlier, we were trying to chase the elephant out and then tranquilise it. Now we are waiting for that full moon night so that we can see it clearly and possibly tranquilise.”