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Killing of an elephant

Killing of an elephant

Buddhadev Nandi

IT was a late summer day a couple of decades ago. The news of a wild tusker killing nine villagers living in the vicinity of the forest range at Bishnupur in Bankura district had hit the headlines in West Bengal. Bishnupur and its neighbouring areas, frequented by migratory elephants from Jharkhand’s Dalma wildlife sanctuary, were gaining notoriety for the man-animal conflict.

The tusker’s latest victim was a baby of Pansuli village. He was trampled to death while his family members were having dinner in the porch in front of their hut on a moonlit evening.

Next morning, when the news spread like wildfire, a reporter friend of mine led a team of five bikers to visit the village. On the way, we saw a dilapidated military runway built by the British during World War II. Some villagers had warned us not to go deep into the forest as the killer tusker might strike anytime, anywhere. Undaunted by their warnings, we stuck to the path dotted by lumps of dung and battered jackfruit left behind by a herd of elephants.

To our astonishment, the village had no men around as they had gone to the town to stage a protest. The soil was still soaked in the blood of the deceased baby. The womenfolk of the village spoke to us and narrated the tragic incident.

In reply to my friend’s queries, they said the culprit could not be identified as it used to roam as part of a herd. It moved so noiselessly that even the dogs of the locality could not sense its lurking presence. The tusker used to kill and then quickly mingle with the herd. Officials of the forest department were reluctant to kill an elephant unless they were sure that they had zeroed in on the right one.

Next day, the news with the photograph of the baby’s mother was published in newspapers. At last, the tusker was shot dead by hired shooters. The news of the elephant’s killing shook my conscience. My hatred and wrath towards the animal was replaced by empathy. The question whether elephants had encroached upon human habitat or the other way round haunted me. I could not get a wink of sleep that night.

Even as I recall that harrowing episode, the conflict between humans and pachyderms persists. Last year, a herd, apparently enraged over the death of a calf, had injured two policemen at Bishnupur. In 2022, migrating herds had trampled seven villagers to death in the area and caused heavy damage to crops.

#West Bengal

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