Trying to rescue a three-month-old calf caught in a swelling river, a herd of elephants has found itself stranded on an isle in Odisha’s Keonjhar district since Sunday night. Forest officials and locals have been working overtime to ensure that the eight elephants make it back to safety from the river isle, located near Erendei village. The water level in Baitarani river had increased after heavy rainfall lashed the region for two days straight.
Keonjhar divisional forest officer Rohit Lenka said the herd, from Similipal tiger sanctuary in neighbouring Mayurbhanj district, strayed into Patna forest range in search of food. While returning on Sunday, the calf was swept away in the river because of the strong current.
“The elephants joined their trunks and carried the calf to safety on the isle, about 20 feet away from the river bank. The herd could have stomped through the thigh-deep water, but perhaps did not want to take chances with the safety of the calf,” he said. Once at the isle, they found themselves trapped as the water level suddenly increased.
Officials said the elephants were also scared to approach the shore because of the presence of a large number of people there.
Though people in Keonjhar have been at the receiving end of marauding elephants over the last decade, locals swam to the isle with paddy sacks and coconuts for the hungry animals.
“The elephants are in distress. It would be inhuman to see them suffer like this,” said a villager.
On Monday evening, two elephants tried to cross over to the shore but appeared scared of the people there. “We expect them to cross over soon as the rain has subsided,” Lenka said.
Forester Bhupati Sethi said the elephants were lucky that they did not return to Similipal. “Had they gone to the Mayurbhanj side, they could have been washed away as the river was deeper there,” Sethi said.
With their habitat scattered and small, elephants in Odisha live a life fraught with danger, often coming face to face with humans. Plus, they run the risk of poaching, poisoning, electrocution, being run over by trains or falling into wells.
As per a state government report, since 2012, more than 840 elephants have died in human-elephant conflict. Keonjhar district, which had 112 elephants in 2002, now has only 47, with experts saying large-scale mining may be responsible for the dwindling numbers.