The worried man’s guide to nabbing elephants

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How Karnataka’s forest department went about catching two dozen wild pachyderms
It looked like a clear shot when he crept up behind the elephant with his tranquiliser gun, but it turned all of a sudden, and charged at him. “The earth shook. I fired the dart. It hit its ear, but the elephant was so close that there was nowhere to run. I smacked its eye with my gun, forcing it to turn away and run past me,’’ says veterinarian Dr BC Chittiappa. He was part of a Karnataka forest department operation to capture 24 wild elephants in two taluks of Hassan district.

The animals had been on the rampage, mauling sundry villagers who got in their way. After the Hemavathi dam project submerged a large area in the early 1990s, these wild elephants moved from Coorg to occupy huge tracts of abandoned coffee estates and forest patches.

A platoon of forest officials was drafted for the operation. The moment an animal or herd was spotted, the team would spring to action. Camp elephants would be brought in. A suitable terrain would be identified to drive the wild elephant to, and the vets would then shoot it with morphine darts. A shooter is allowed only one shot because an overdose can kill. The fallen tusker would then be goaded onto a truck— with the aid of trained elephants. The entire process would often take up to two days.

Marappa Siddappa, a mahout who takes out his 45-year-old tame tusker for such operations, says, “While tame elephants love to charge at cornered wild elephants, sometimes the sedated ones fight back.”

Most of the 24 wild pachyderms have been set free in forests in other parts of the state. A few aggressive loners have been sent to forest department camps to be tamed. The population of wild tuskers has risen. “At least six more are roaming around these areas. We will resume captures as soon as the Centre gives the go- ahead,’’ says Dr Chittiappa.