Brothers Ram and Balram covered at least 2,000 km, probably after getting separated from their herd in Odisha some time in the beginning of 2019. After spending time in forests spread across four states, the elephants reached the Bargi dam area in Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh two days ago.
On Friday, one of them was electrocuted when he came in contact with a live wire. The other has now proceeded alone towards Mandla district, the authorities on his tail.
Jabalpur Chief Conservator of Forest R D Mahla said, “One of the two died of electrocution due to a live wire put up by villagers in farms near Bargi dam for killing wild boars. The other elephant has moved towards Mandla and a team is trailing him for a capture operation.”
“It started somewhere around February 2019, when the two brothers, Ram aged 20 years and Balram, around 18 years, entered Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund district from neighbouring Odisha,” said Mansoor Khan, an elephant activist from Bilaspur, who has tracked the two elephants’ journey. “From Mahasamund, they went to Kanker and later to Bastar that recorded its first elephant sighting ever.”
While officials couldn’t confirm if the dead elephant was Ram or Balram, Khan said, “From the photograph, it appears to be the younger Balram.”
The brothers did not stop anywhere beyond a few days, said Khan, who leads a group that raises awareness in Chhattisgarh districts about how to remain safe from elephants.
“They headed for Kawardha district followed by Rajnandgaon around April. Later, they went to Seoni followed by Balaghat district in Madhya Pradesh. For about two days, they had also entered Gadchiroli district,” Khan said.
In Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, the two stayed near a village in Korchi tehsil, where a rush of onlookers led to a commotion in which a forest guard was injured in June last year.
Later, the elephants again entered Madhya Pradesh and spent several months in the jungles of Seoni and Balaghat, also spending some time in Kawardha district of Chhattisgarh.
“This August, they came to Kanha Tiger Reserve’s core area and stayed for about 10-15 days during which they attacked four of our domesticated elephants,” said Kanha Field Director S K Singh. “They left the core and settled in the territorial forest for a few months,” he added.
“They then headed for Jabalpur in November. On Friday, tragedy struck them and one of them died of electrocution.”
Singh said the elephants moved close to several villages and caused a human death in Seoni. Asked what would be the next step after Ram is captured, Mahla said, “That will be decided later.” Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, Field Director Vikram Singh Parihar said, “On Sunday, the other elephant was located near Kutela village in Jabalpur divisional forest, about 30 km from the electrocution spot. Our men are on his trail.”
Elephant whisperer Anand Shinde said, “Male elephants do get separated by choice from the herd anytime after attaining 12 years of age to prevent in-breeding. Male elephants have developed a tendency to move together to ensure each other’s safety from poachers. They have a genetic memory and know routes walked by their forefathers. So, these two elephants’ journey is absolutely normal. The only thing to watch is to not cross the path of the other elephant should he walk back to the place where his brother died. He could then get extremely violent…”
Balram’s death also underscores the growing incidence of wildlife deaths by electrocution. Nitin Desai, central India Director of Wildlife Protection Society of India, said, “Poaching of herbivores for bush meat by electrocution is growing alarmingly all over the country and accidental killing of unintended targets like big cats and elephants is a collateral damage that’s much bigger loss than the intended animals’ deaths…”