The West Bengal forest department has shot dead an elephant inviting sharp criticism from all quarters after which it defended the move saying its had been “left with no other option” after all attempts to capture the “rogue” tusker “failed”.
“Authorised hunters” pumped in 12 bullets into the fully grown elephant bringing it down near the Beliatore forests of Bankura district on Tuesday. The tusker was initially being tracked by five teams who had also deployed five trained elephants from north Bengal.
“Our intention had never been to kill the elephant, but to capture it. But since all attempts failed, we had no other option but to hunt it as it was posed a risk to people,” said principal secretary, state forest department, Chandan Sinha.
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The killing comes a month after Union minister Maneka Gandhi had said that the West Bengal government had got permission to kill wild elephants from the environment ministry. The state government, however, had denied the charge saying it had only sought permission to capture 18 rogue wild elephants. The government had claimed that these “rogue elephants” had claimed 71 lives in South West Bengal since April last year, with 35 of the deaths being reported from Bankura.
According to the forest department, the order to hunt the rogue tusker was issued by the Chief Wildlife Warden of West Bengal on April 29 last year under the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
“The order was issued after the elephant killed a person, injured six others and damaged crops and houses,” Sinha said.
However the animal continued “with its depredations” and “could not be hunted”, he added. Later, the elephant was declared “rogue” in February this year as it was “extremely aggressive and becoming dangerous for life and property”. On June 29, the earlier order was extended to “capture the elephant and it would be hunted down” only as a “last resort”.
“Initially, efforts were made to capture the elephant. A team of officers headed by the chief conservator of forests, central circle made extensive arrangements for the operation,” Sinha said. On Monday, the officials manged to shoot the elephant with a tranquilizer dart, but it managed to escape. At the time, the “rogue” was moving with a smaller elephant that too was darted and captured. It has been sent to North Bengal for rehabilitation, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Pradeep Vyas said.
On Tuesday, through the course of the day, seven attempts were made to tranquilise the rogue elephant, but each time it would charge the personnel and escape into the forest, said Sinha in a statement.
“During one such attempt, the elephant attacked the team. Since after two days of strenuous efforts by teams did not yield any result, the authorities decided to hunt the elephant and it was shot dead by authorised hunters. The autopsy report is awaited,” he said.
The autopsy is being carried out by two veterinary doctors, said officials.
Meanwhile experts suggested that while officials had taken all possible measures to capture the animal, perhaps the time had come for the state forest department to outsource rescue operations. “Karnataka recently captured 70 elephants. Perhaps, the state needs to outsource such operations. The government did try to capture this animal, but couldn’t for a variety of reasons and shot it as a last resort, which is what is also sanctioned under the Wildlife protection act,” said Mayukh Chatterjee of Wildlife Trust of India. Chatterjee heads the conflict mitigation project in UP with the association of the state government.
Contacted, Varun Goswami, Elephant Programme Lead, Wildlife Conservation Society, said that while he can’t comment on “this particular case” in Bankura, “the larger issue is that killing an elephant will not necessarily mitigate the problem” of human-elephant conflict. “Elephants are wide-ranging animals that require large sections of contiguous forest and food. In the absence of that the animals are forced to enter human habitation. Long-term mitigation strategies need to take this into account if they are to be successful,” Goswami said.