By Ignatius Pereira
Even after remaining under the command of mahouts for seven-and-a-half years, Hariprasad, a 43-year-old majestic tusker from the jungles of Assam, is in no mood to get transformed into a captive elephant. He is presently in the custody of the Kerala Forest Department at the Kodanad Elephant Camp, in Ernakulam district.
Standing tethered to a coconut palm, Hariprasad looks outwardly composed. But mahouts are wary of getting too close to him. The mahouts of Kodanad who are experts in taming wild elephants say that Hariprasad’s case is different for he has not forgotten the forests and nurses an urge to return to the wild.
The elephant’s calm postures are deceptive and given the slightest opportunity, he will break away and even turn into a killing machine in his urge to reach the forest, they say. He already tried to claim his freedom twice and one was at Kodanad itself in January 2012 when he slipped free and escaped while the mahouts were bathing him in the Periyar.
As though by instinct, Hariprasad sensed forests on the opposite bank and he swam across the river and entered the Malayattur forests. After roaming the forests for more than 36 hours, he thought of taking a dip in the river. Then the chains on his hind leg got entangled in a crevice on the riverbed and that put an end to his freedom. He was tranquilised and brought back to the camp, tethered back to the coconut palm where he continues to stand even now.
The elephant is typically Assamese. Unlike the local elephants, he has stout, short legs, big eyes with long dark lashes, and a huge, round hippopotamus body. The trunk is long and his tusks very heavy, each weighing at least 40 kg, the mahouts say.
Right from the day he was captured from the Assam forests in early 2006, he was adamant of getting back to the forests and that craving strongly continues even now.
In September 2006, at an animal bazaar in Assam the tusker was sold to a Thrissur-based person and the journey to Kerala began from there through West Bengal and Bihar. Then when that mammoth journey reached the grasslands in Siwan district of Bihar, Hariprasad could not resist the temptation of returning to the wilderness. That night while the mahouts were in deep slumber, Hariprasad broke free and set out on his walk to freedom. The more than 4,000 hectare marshy spread of elephant grass gave the cover and the much desired freedom he longed. For seven long months, Hariprasad roamed free in that grassland, occasionally raiding the sugarcane crops that brim the grassland.
Veterinarians brought in from West Bengal to capture him not only failed but the tusker even killed two men from that team. The mahouts then hit upon the idea of luring Hariprasad with a female elephant, and Champa was brought to Siwan from West Bengal.
But on the night of March 4, 2007, the tusker sneaked into their camp, released Champa and eloped into the grasslands. The mahouts could only helplessly watch the pachyderms romancing in the wilderness. It was then that the person who bought the tusker thought of contacting Kollam-based captive elephant management expert and veterinary surgeon B. Aravind, who has a track record of tackling more than 150 elephants which ran amok.
Dr. Aravind and team reached Patna on March 11 that year and after a 150-km travel through road reached Siwan. They located Hariprasad on March 16 and with the right tranquiliser dose captured him. But when the tusker reached Kerala, the owner could not produce the mandatory documents under the Kerala Captive Elephant Management Rules to have its custody. The matter went to the Kerala High Court and the court ordered the Forest Department to take custody of Hariprasad.