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Jumbo calf flees 9-month-old shelter to join herd

Alipurduar, Sept. 13: An elephant calf living in captivity for the past nine months has fled to join a herd in the wild, a story unheard of in the animal world where young ones coming into contact with humans are usually abandoned by the mother.

Elephant experts are waiting with bated breath to see if the calf is accepted by the herd in the Jaldapara wildlife sanctuary. They are hopeful that since 24 hours have passed, the calf, Ramu, had little chance of returning.

Mahout Saran Subba who looks after Ramu had taken the makna (male elephant without tusks) near the swamp deer enclosure in the sanctuary yesterday to graze, when it fled to join the herd of 40.

“Ramu saw the herd and ran before I could realise what was happening. I saw the herd, a little far away. Then I saw Ramu mingle with them,” a forester quoted the mahout.

The foresters searched through out the night, but could not find Ramu, which is around two years nine months old.

This morning they spotted the herd of elephants but they could not find Ramu. “It was difficult to spot it among so many others,” said a forester.

Elephant trainer and expert on jumbos Parbati Barua told The Telegraph over the phone: “This is the first time in Jaldapara that any captive elephant calf has returned to the herd after nine months. Since 24 hours have passed, there is little chance that it would return. It is good if it does not return because a wild has returned to the wild.”

The mahout recollected how Ramu was abandoned by its herd in Titi IV compartment of the sanctuary on December 8. The foresters had tried to make it go back to its herd, but failed.

The foresters kept a close watch on the animal and on December 10, the herd entered Huntapara Tea Estate. Throughout the day, the people in the garden pelted the calf with stones as it tried to join its herd.

“The little one ran helter- skelter from one section of the garden to the other as the people chased it. We drove it back to the forest in the evening,” said a forester.

But from the next morning, the calf started coming back to the house of Budhu Oraon at Jamtala on the fringes of the sanctuary for food. “Budhu’s family fed the calf and it started coming back. At night it used to lie on a heap of thatch and flee when the sun rose,” said the forester.

But the health of the calf deteriorated and divisional forest officer Omprakash asked chief wildlife warden S.B. Mandal for permission to tranquillise it and make the calf a kunki.

On December 23, the calf was tranquillised, brought to the Jaldapara east range campus of the forest department and named Ramu.

Ramu suffered a severe infection after its rescue. “Something happened on its skin, which seemed to be coming off,” said the forester. The condition became so critical that a medical board was formed with four vets. But the calf recovered. For the past few months it was being trained as a forest department elephant. Ramu had also joined the rhino census in February.

DFO Omprakash said his staff with four kunkis were keeping a watch on the herd. “If we confirm that the herd has accepted Ramu then it is okay. Otherwise we have to bring it back, or else it might be abandoned again. Rarely does such incidents take place because a herd does not accept an abandoned calf.”

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