|The elephant in the jungles of Birbhum on Friday. Telegraph picture
Birbhum, Jan. 19: In the absence of expert advice, the Good Samaritans of Rajnagar are wondering if they made an elephantine error of judgement.
Residents of the Birbhum village fed and nursed back to health an ailing tusker three weeks ago. Little did they know that the elephant would feed on their paddy and destroy houses days later.
The villagers said they had been staying the nights in the houses of friends and relatives. The sufferers are not Rajnagar residents alone.
A cluster of hamlets surrounding the dense forests of Birbhum is bearing the brunt of the foraging elephant.
Around 20 days ago, a herd of six elephants had entered Rajnagar from the Dalma range in Jharkhand and started devouring crops.
The herd retreated into the forests in two or three days, but an “ailing” elephant stayed behind.
Residents living in areas frequented by elephants usually chase tuskers away or call forest guards to do so.
But these villagers chose to nurse it back to health.
They gave the elephant bananas, other fruits and leaves for the next few days.
“We saw an adult elephant lying on the banks of the Siddheswari river. It was trying to stand on its feet but failing to do so. It was ailing probably. We decided to nurse it back to health. We fed it bananas, other fruits and leaves. But we did not inform the forest department, thinking we would manage. We fed him for 10 days. One morning, the tusker stood up and started walking slowly,” farmer Sadananda Pal of Ruhida village said.
Although the elephant “disappeared” into the forests a few hours later, it returned at night.
“First, it started destroying the paddy. Then, it broke a mud house with its trunk. We managed to chase it with fire torches and drums. We were relieved, but not for long,” a villager in Rajnagar said.
The elephant kept returning to the villages, probably in search of food.
The hamlets where the residents are living in “constant fear” are Patalpur, Hirapur, Ruhida, Goabagan and Kalabagan. The villages are located along the banks of the Siddheswari and are within metres of the forest area.
“We are living in constant fear. Those who have mud houses have been spending the nights in neighbouring villages. We regret having fed the elephant back to health,” said trader Dayamoy Ghosh of Hirapur village.
“Three days ago, the elephant demolished the boundary wall of my mud house. We woke up and fled our home. We have been staying at my relative’s place. We dare not go back,” Ghosh added.
Another villager in Goabagan, Ashok Marandi, said the tusker damaged his barn filled with paddy last night.
“The elephant destroyed my barn and devoured part of the paddy. We are helpless,” Marandi said.
The nights of torment have prompted the villagers seek the forest department’s help.
A forest official said the villagers should have informed the department earlier.
“Why didn’t they do that? Now when they are in trouble, they have sought our help. We are trying to push the elephant back into the forest,” the official said.
Pradip Chakraborty, the forest beat officer of Aligarh block, said the elephant was “old and ailing”.
“When the villagers informed us, we went to look for it in the forest. We saw it deep in the jungle. It stays inside during the day, but comes out in search of food at night,” Chakraborty said.
“We are trying to find a herd for it,” he added.
Asked what the department planned to do, divisional forest officer Santosh G.R. said: “We know about the elephant and we are trying to drive it away from the villages.”