Jumbo's aggression stumps officials

Experts opposed to parading elephants in processions; caution department

Of all the elephants participating in Dasara celebrations, Gajendra (who killed his handler Ganapathi and elephant Srirama) was known for his ‘quiet, calm and cool’ behaviour, with tourists often posing beside the elephant during Dasara celebrations.

However, the aggressive behaviour of the calm animal at K Gudi camp in Biligiriranga Tiger Reserve (BRT) on Sunday, serves as a stark reminder on how deadly these gentle giants  can become, especially when male elephants are in masth.

It is not that the Forest department doesn’t realise the dangers involved in parading elephants amidst huge crowds. While several tragic incidents have taken place in Kerala, with elephants injuring or killing its’ own handlers, or running on a rampage during processions, Dasara veteran and howdah carrier Arjuna himself had given a scare to the Mysuru public on August 30, 2013, just a few days before Dasara. Arjuna, who was in masth, during the guard of honour ceremony, had displayed aggression, with several people including a former IFS officer and a local Congress leader having come in harm’s way.

Such minor scares have made the Forest department very wary of parading elephants amidst crowds, and despite its repeated pleas, the government has paid no heed to it, as Dasara is considered a State event. Raman Sukumar of Center for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, said that captive elephants in masth were relatively more dangerous than wild elephants in masth, as the former are restrained, while wild pachyderms has a wide area to wander on. “There are chances that a captive elephant in masth could turn violent. Such elephants should be avoided during all public processions,” he said. It is also difficult to assess the behaviour of elephants during masth, as their temperament was bad, he said.
He said that the department should consider the use of bull pens, to restrain bulls during masth and also the use of anti-androgen drugs to control them.

Elephant expert Ajai Desai said that using elephants in processions, especially if they are in masth, was dangerous. “An elephant killing a mahout is very rare. However, there is a first time for everything. A rogue jumbo during Dasara procession will threaten several human lives,” he said.
Stating that elephants in masth were not entirely “unpredictable”, he said that handling such elephants was dependent on the skills of the keeper.

“Elephants in masth are very dominant. Sometimes even simple commands to elephants in masth can infuriate it, as it sees the commands as a challenge,” he said. This, coupled with kavadi Ganapathi’s attempts to separate two quarreling elephants, could have led to the keeper’s demise. However, such attacks on mahouts, especially in the elephant camps of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is very rare, he added.

Another wildlife expert who did not wish to be quoted, also opined that using elephants in public processions posed a significant threat. “Mahouts will be able to control even elephants in masth, 10 out of 11 times. However, it is when they cannot control does the situation turn ugly,” the expert said, adding that authorities should take a lesson from the episode.

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