Foresters escort Ramu to the camp in Jaldapara on Wednesday. Picture by Anirban Choudhury
Alipurduar, Sept. 14: For Ramu, freedom was short-lived.
The captive elephant calf that had made a dash on Monday to merge with a herd in Jaldapara was recaptured by foresters this morning who spotted it lagging behind the others — a sign that it had not been accepted.
The manner in which Ramu joined had the 40-member herd was thought to be one of those rarities in the animal world, where young ones coming into contact with humans are usually abandoned by mothers.
The calf had been trained by forest department elephants for the past nine months ever since it was abandoned by its herd at the Titi IV compartment of the sanctuary and was captured on December 10.
Even elephant trainer and expert Parbati Baruah had remarked yesterday that as 24 hours had passed since Ramu ran away, there was “little chance” of its return.
But about 40 forest staff members had been patrolling the Jaldapara forest, tracking Ramu’s herd on 10 kunkis since yesterday.
They spotted the runaway this morning.
“It was a round 5.30am when we saw Ramu. It was sometimes lagging behind the herd of about 40 elephants and sometimes running to catch up with them. We could sense that he had not been accepted and it was then we decided to capture him,” a forester said.
A dozen forest staff shimmied up several tall trees to keep a watch out for the herd and their movement.
“We then burst crackers to chase the herd away as there were six to seven tuskers. They ran away, leaving Ramu behind,” the forester said.
The recapture was swift and was over in no time.
Three kunkis, Srimanta, Kuntalini and Karna, with their mahouts atop surrounded Ramu.
Saran Subba, who had been tending to the elephant ever since it was captured, jumped down from the kunki he was riding and, once on the ground, held Ramu’s ears to make him stay put.
Then its legs were tied and it was brought to the range office campus at Jaldapara east.
His captors said once it was brought to the camp, it was given a bath with warm water.
“It was caked in dirt. Veterinary surgeon Ashoke Kumar Singh examined it and said it was okay,” a forester said.
Divisional forest officer Omprakash said Ramu could have been killed by the older males in the herd. “We recaptured it for its safety. Its training as a kunki will begin in a few days and it will always be kept tied.”
S. S. Bist, the managing director of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation and former director of Project Elephant, said the forest staff needed to be praised for the successful recapture. “It is very difficult to capture elephants that have escaped. There is also a danger of semi-trained elephants turning into dangerous animals once they return to the wild,” Bist said over the phone from Calcutta.