by Santosh Rajus – A morning walk in the coffee plantation always brings me great joy when I see the way the gentle giants have walked through and left their markings; especially tracking the young one’s path in the fresh grass. The path of adults would be in a single line and then next to it a playful and almost everywhere path, made by the little ones. The giants enter the plantation and walk towards the small water source and then feed on whatever they can in the plantations. Of course, there is always human-wildlife conflict that occurs due to the food/crop loss that they incur. But something about these giants was different, I always felt they were kind and minding their own business (based on my encounters with them twice).
One day, a message was being announced by forest officials that the wild elephant will be captured the next day. This experience of witnessing the capture of the wild elephant was one of the saddest moments in my life. It all starts with firecrackers in the early morning at around 4:00 AM to drive the elephants towards the forest entrance, and then gun shots are fired in the air and finally a tranquilizer shot at the wild elephant. This entire process is generally repeated if they miss the shot. Tired and stressed – the effect of the tranquilizer sinks in to the giant and he drops down close to entrance of the forest. He is then tied with huge ropes and chains on his neck and legs, sometimes the sharp tusks will also be trimmed to avoid damage to Kumki (Kumki is the Tamil name for captive, trained Indian Elephants that are used mostly for taming and training of newly captured wild elephants and also to lead away wild elephants that stray into human settlements). The wild elephant then wakes up to the sight of four Kumki giants surrounding him. This capture procedure takes approximately 3 hours.
The next few hours they break his wild heart. One Kumki holds the rope tied to his neck, another holds the rope and chain tied to his legs, another stands in the side to charge at it and then the main Kumki is in the front charging at it continuously. The wild elephant tries hard to set himself free, even when 3 Kumkis are holding him down (still with the effect of tranquilliser) he charges without ceasing, hoping to be set free but every time he will be brought down. He fights hard for almost an hour and then cries his heart out before falling down and is pushed inside the cage, placed inside a truck. This last cry of the wild elephant shattered my heart, and looking at his eyes at that moment spoke a lot to me. It’s like the giant saying to everyone there, “You took away everything from me – first my home, now my wild heart. I am your slave”. I hope a day comes where we take time to understand these gentle giants.