By Alka Dhupkar
The state forest department is facing criticism after a captured wild elephant died in Amberi in Mangaon tehesil, Sindhudurg district. The elephant, captured February 15 in the Naneli forest and named Ganesh, died on April 10. The same day, a postmortem was conducted and Ganesh was cremated.
Captured elephants are kept in a top-open wooden enclosure (called kraal). The intense heat - the temperature in Sindhudurg has reached to 38-39 degrees - is giving the captured elephants health problems. After Ganesh's death, it has been revealed that the forest officers have never requested the state or central authorities for elephant-expert veterinary doctors. "We don't have 24/7 veterinary doctors to look after the captured elephants," Ramesh Kumar, deputy conservator of forests, Kolhapur division under which Sindhudurg falls, admitted.
"The assistant commissioner of livestock from Kudal does visit these elephants at Amberi once a week, but it is not sufficient because neither is he trained in elephant health nor can he pay regular attention to them. These government veterinary doctors have experience of domestic animals; relying upon them for elephants' heath is creating a big problem in captured wild animals' well-being."
Of the other two captured elephants, Samarth is 30 years old and Bhim is 50. "Bhim is also unwell and needs immediate proper medical care," Kumar said. He said that he will write to the state authorities demanding an elephant-expert veterinary doctor.
According to Kumar, Ganesh's post-mortem report shows he died of a cardiovascular attack. The viscera have been sent to the Maharashtra government's forensic lab in Pune where all veterinary forensic work is conducted. The report is awaited.
Vijay Palkar, a local journalist who has been following Sindhudurg's wild elephant problem since 2002, said: "If available veterinary doctors have no expertise in elephant health, how can they conduct a postmortem on them? Now the dead elephant is cremated so we don't even have enough proof of injuries he succumbed to."
Meanwhile, a video showing animal trainers mercilessly beating up captive wild elephants has been widely circulated in the district. A four-member team of the Karnataka forest department is in Amberi to train captured elephants. The wild animals often cross into Maharashtra from Karnataka.
An eyewitness told Mirror: "When we questioned this brutal kind of training, we were told that this is the way to train these tuskers, and that such injuries do not harm the elephants."
The eyewitness alleged that sticks with knives tied to them were regularly used to train the elephants.
Kumar denied these allegations: "These four members were paid 20,000 each per month by our department. They are trained in such activity, as they have experience in Karnataka." Rs 69 lakh was sanctioned in December first week after special permission was granted by the central environment and forest ministry to capture these wild elephants, which were causing serious trouble to the people in Sindhudurg. Four trained elephants from Karnataka's forest department brought to Sindhudurg to help in the capture of the three wild tuskers were insured by the Maharashtra forest department for Rs 5 lakh. The captured animals are not insured.
Since 2004, five wild elephants have died in Sindhudurg out of which three were female. Two died post-capture and one female died due to a medicine overdose. But then one cannot be sure of the cause of death. Now, the MNS's district branch has demanded that the Kudal police investigate Ganesh's death.