Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Killer Strikes

On 25th June, Manwar Ali, a resident and former worker of the tea garden where we live, was attacked and killed by a wild elephant. The elephant, a lone tusker, had entered the Bara Line - a workers' colony - early in the evening, and it had hidden itself quietly for some time before the people living near Manwar's house saw it. They gave chase, as they usually do, frightening it away with crackers and strong lights, and by making a lot of noise. Tea garden people are resigned to sharing their living space with elephants.
A tractor with powerful lights was driven around to send the elephant back in the direction of the forest. The chase ended - or so it appeared - and people went back home. Manwar Ali turned off to the side street where he lived, and stamped the dirt off his chappals. At the sound, the elephant came out from where it had been hiding, unseen, and hurled him to the ground, into the tea area. Manwar rolled into a little drain and hid there. The elephant sniffed around him once, and walked away. Manwar got up, and walked until he found someone. He told him what happened, and asked to be taken to the hospital. It was around eleven thirty in the night. People gathered at once and they took the poor man to the garden hospital, where the doctor examined him. He didn’t have any external injuries. However, the doctor recommended that he be taken to the hospital in Birpara town. Someone was sent to call the driver of the ambulance, but before he rushed back with him, Manwar died. He must have sustained heavy internal injuries. His head had hit against a tree trunk when he fell.

The shock was terrible. What a sudden, unexpected, fearful and painful death. Manwar's brother had been with him less than an hour before, in the big group that always runs behind elephants - keeping a safe distance, of course. No one tried to injure the elephant or to harm it in any way. It killed without a reason, and without any provocation.
The Assistant Manager alerted the Wild Life squad in the area, who turned up soon enough, but not before they expressed the fear that they might get beaten up by angry tea-garden workers. It has been known to happen. There was no trouble. The people were agitated, but not aggressive.
The state pays a compensation of Rs.One Lakh in the case of deaths caused by wild elephants. The Squad paid a small part of the sum as an advance towards funeral expenses.
There are so many cases of elephants killing people. According to a report in The Times of India dated 5 June 2008, 250 people die on an average every year in the country's eastern states in the man-elephant conflict. There is a website called 'Elephant News India' where I spotted the link to this article, and it carries 18 stories of man-elephant conflict for the month of June alone. Now there is one more.

Elephants are dangerous animals, and we in tea gardens have a healthy respect for them. There are as many elephant stories as there are tea planters. They are part of our lives, the tall tales that are told and retold over evening drinks in friends' bungalows. I don’t feel like recounting even one here now.
Visitors to tea gardens get really excited when they hear about elephants coming out for an evening round from the nearby forests. 'Don’t say you that you wish you could see an elephant,' my husband always tells them. That elephants can kill, and for no apparent reason, is something visitors find hard to believe. That they can destroy huge areas of cultivated land, including vast areas planted with tea, sounds impossible. My husband has more to say about elephants. They are huge, but light-footed. They can chase their quarry at great speed, running at something like 40km an hour. They have tiny eyes in proportion to their bodies, and weak eyesight, but their sense of smell more than makes up for that. An elephant is a master at concealment. It can hide in the darkness, even in the shadow of a tree.

The night after the attack, everyone was worried. A killer elephant generally returns to the place where it has struck. Manwar's brother, his closest surviving relative, was filled with sorrow, but he had no anger. He had a sad story to recount to my husband when he met him in Bara Line early in the morning. Their uncle was killed, over twelve years ago, at almost the same spot, and by an elephant. He'd been carrying a little child in his arms. The child was lightly flicked aside out of harm's way by the elephant before it struck the man down and killed him.



So sad. And all of us going ga ga over the calm life in a tea garden, totally unaware of the dangers or the simmering political scenario.

It is a marvel that the poor man was able to walk after being hurled down, and actually tell someone what happened.

What a grim coincidence - to be killed in the same way at the same spot as his uncle - why did the elephant spare the child, one wonders.

flowergirl said...

This is really dreadful and sad. Yes, the southern forests are also filled with stories about angry elephants.

Anonymous said...

Very sad. Brings up the question of whether humans and wildlife can coexist. I tend to agree with Valmik Thapar that they cannot, and what happened seems to suggest the same.

satabdi said...

its a regularly happening in most of the tea gardens.i know it for myself i i have been hearing such stories from my childhood days.but its sumthing one cant prevent.may god give peace to his family and beloved.

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

oh my!! That sure is alarming! An elephant attacking without provocation?? That's really weird. How do you people live admist all that? Arent you scared?? Agree with Raji. All of us think life in a tea garden is heaven, sometimes forgotting even the prospect of elephants. I've heard such tales from a kindly person at Nagarhole park---could recount so many such stories.

indrani said...

Very sad indeed.

The only provocation here could be: man is encroaching in to its natural habitat. Vast jungle areas are getting deforested, where do they go?

Gardenia said...

Thanks, Raji, for the thought. Flowergirl, I thought the elephant website I've mentioned would be of interest to you and Sekar.
Thank you, Satabdi, Lakshmi, and Indrani - yes, we need to create elephant corridors. It takes so long to get things moving, and all the while the elephant is still terrorising the area.

Happy Kitten said...

...the ups and downs of a tea garden life...

It is indeed sad to read such stories.

I think we forget the fact that they are animals after all. We encroach upon their space and then wonder why they react.

I had made a post on Elephants(never posted though) while reading the way it killed bystanders in the Kerala temples. There was a time when elephants were looked after with reverence and kindness, but not everyone does so now. Gone is the respect and care that these animals received in yesteryears. Now it is waiting to react when provoked even in a slight manner. I think its reaction is normal if we compare it to a human being, the only difference is that we are talking of an animal bull (male) Asian elephant that might weigh up to 11900 lb (5400 kg) and stand 10.5 ft (3.2 m).

I have also read that they have a good memory and hence the place that you mentioned might have given this elephant some terrible experience.. as for sparing the child, maybe they have a heart as well?

Viji said...

Makes me think of the poor leopards who stray into the now populated areas of the hills in front of our complex in Thane and kill and get killed.

Their natural habitat is invaded, their natural prey disappear and they come out in search of food and ocasionally , frighteningly, it is a morning walker, or a little child from the village who ventures out alone .......