Operation jumbo


Representative image. (AFP photo)

In the 1960s while working in one of Munnar’s isolated tea estates, the ennui I often experienced was sometimes relieved by odd wildlife-related happenings. To an avid nature-lover like me, it indeed went a long way in easing the monotony of an unchanging routine.

Early one morning I awoke to a cacophony of excited voices nearby. A wild elephant’s 3-year-old calf had stumbled overnight into a septic tank that had been opened up for cleaning in a workers’ colony. The herd had apparently tried to extricate the youngster but, had reluctantly retreated to a nearby jungle as dawn broke to watch how matters panned out.

A large number of workers had gathered and soon attempts were being made to rope the calf and bodily lift it out. However, agitated by the commotion, it repeatedly brushed aside the ropes with its trunk amidst a good deal of irate squealing and shuffling.The stench from the decomposing excreta in the tank was overpowering, and the fact that the calf was knee-deep in it (besides being liberally smeared) didn’t exactly help matters. Feeling miserable and
wretched, the prisoner soon began to frantically bang itself against the sides of the tank in a futile bid to get out.

A forest official supervising the rescue suggested breaking down the sides of the tank so that the calf could clamber out on its own. Crowbars were brought pronto and soon the cemented sides of the tank caved in, the debris unavoidably raining down on the now terrified calf. Though uninjured, it still refused to budge, no doubt fearing the clamorous crowd.

Braving the stink, a plucky youngster offered to get into the pit and push the petrified prisoner out. However, considering the grave risk involved, he was firmly dissuaded from doing so. It was feared, quite rightly, that the distraught calf might crush him in the narrow confines of the pit. Then, at the forest official’s suggestion, several sandbags (used to anchor the roofing sheets of workers’ houses against strong monsoon winds) were expeditiously trucked to the site and carefully lowered with ropes into the pit, taking care not to injure the calf. It was hoped that these would serve as a stairway to enable the calf to climb out. Soon, after being gently prodded with poles, the calf was slowly coaxed up the sandbags and out — to loud applause.Everyone heaved a sigh of relief as the almost 3-hour rescue operation ended successfully.

Once freed, someone tried in vain to hose down the calf as it tottered away towards the herd waiting restively in the distance, leaving behind an unsavoury trail. It was hardly presentable to say the least, having wallowed overnight in human excrement — to which it had also contributed prolifically. Its mother certainly couldn’t have welcomed it back with open arms!

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