To smell death, perhaps even feel it and then be miraculously let-off from its jaws because of the amazing presence of mind shown by your pet dog is something few will live to tell. K P Rasheed, 54, has lived to tell the story though he still shudders in disbelief as he recalls the sequence of events.
A ‘‘forest convener’’ who engages groups of workers in carrying out sundry works, Rasheed has been virtually living in and out of forests for the last 40 years in the Nilambur range in Malappuram district. He undertakes works like stock taking of the trees, foliage cutting, afforestation and fire control with the help of about ten workers. ‘‘Since it was difficult to move in and out of dense forests, we often stayed in makeshift tents or tree-tops. My dog Appu used to accompany us to the forests,’’ says Rasheed.
Besides leading the way, Appu virtually operated as an early warning alarm for the workers from wild animals. The Nilambur forests are renowned for their tall teak plantations and about 5000 of them were uprooted by a storm in July.
Rasheed and his workers were undertaking the numbering of these fallen trees for the past several months when the incident happened. It was on the morning of November 22 when Rasheed climbed down from his tree house at Karulai, some 30 kms from Nilambur and walked towards the road through the rows of teak trees.
Wild elephants are common in these forests and several people including forest employees have fallen prey to their attacks.
‘‘We get normally warned by Appu if there is some movement in the vicinity. That day he was trailing me at some distance as I was strolling past a row of trees. Suddenly as I crossed a Thanni tree (a pagoda like huge tree with a wide base) I froze for a moment. For there, right in front of me within touching distance was an elephant. It was about 8 feet tall and I had missed it because of the big tree’’ recalls Rasheed the tension clearly ringing in his voice.
Before he could turn and run, the pachyderm had caught him by his hip with its trunk and he was hanging in the air for the next few minutes. ‘‘I tried to shriek and wriggle out as the animal carried me for about 10 metres.
By this time my voice managed to come out,’’ Rasheed said. Hearing his master’s cries, Appu came running and saw the unusual scene. He began to bark at the moving mountain but to no avail.
‘‘The elephant raised me to its forehead where my body touched. I thought it was the end and that the animal would either smash me or trample me to death’’ Rasheed recalls. ‘‘But what stunned me next was the loosening grip of the elephant over me and I discovered that Appu had caught the elephant’s tail by his teeth and was hanging on to it. Writhing in pain the elephant let me down and turned to the dog.’’ This helped him to slip down even though he got kicked by one of the elephant’s legs as it turned to confront Appu.
The irate elephant managed to catch Appu also and hurled the dog away. Rasheed managed to slip down into safety and the workers also rushed in to rescue him.
‘‘I suffered a fracture below my right knee and some bruises as well. Appu also had some bruises. I have a problem with my hip and I am still unable to sit or lie down for longer periods. But I think it is a small price for staying alive,’’ says he.
Rasheed bought his pet dog 4 years ago as a pup for just Rs 300. ‘‘Had I not shown the resource to spend that money on that fateful evening I would not have been alive today,’’ says he.
However, what has disappointed Rasheed was the compensation he received from the forest department for the injuries he sustained.
‘‘Just Rs 5000 and that is the value of the life I got back. This is how forest workers and ordinary people who get killed or mauled by elephants are being treated, '' says he.