Forest officials prepare to drive ‘Gopal Bhakta’ back to the woods

Gundlupet: The Forest Department is preparing to drive the wild Tusker that comes every day to Himavad Gopalaswamy Temple to eat leftovers and prasadam offered by devotees. The 20-year-old elephant, called ‘Gopal Bhakta’ by devotees, visits the temple every evening, goes around the temple lifting its trunk and leaves the premises after consuming leftovers, catching the attention of temple visitors, Forest Department and wildlife lovers. The temple is located inside the highly sensitive Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Though the elephant has so far not caused harm to anyone and keeps to itself while consuming the leftovers leaving quietly later, the question doing the rounds is what if it causes problems in the coming days. Wildlife lovers have urged the Forest Department officials to drive the elephant back into the forest.

One more headache for the Department is that the number of visitors to the temple has seen a sharp increase after the news of the Tusker spread. Officials said that hundreds of visitors have been thronging the hill temple especially in the evenings coinciding with the time of the Tusker’s regular visit.

This issue has been discussed with higher officers of the Forest Department and more guards have been employed to control the crowd. As a precautionary measure, crackers and a gun has been given to the Forest staff. However, steps would be taken to drive the elephant back into the forest soon– Puttaswamy, Range Forest Officer, Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta

With everyone having a mobile camera now, people are falling over one another to take pictures of the elephant. Officials said that elephant might find the crowd uncomfortable and might attack people. There is also a danger of the elephant getting irritated as people shout and flash their mobile phone cameras.

Realising the potential danger that the Tusker might pose, the Department officials burst crackers two days ago to drive the elephant back into the woods. Though the elephant ran away hearing the cracker sound, it returned to the temple compound in the night and began trumpeting after it circumambulated the temple. Seeing this, terrified guards stayed inside the walls of the temple and did not come out till sunrise.

Department officials have now directed the temple priests and security guards not to feed the elephant with fruits, prasadam and vegetables. Once the feeding stops, the elephant will go back to the forests, the officials feel. If this does not happen, the Department will think about the next step to drive it back to the jungles, said Ambadi Madhav, Director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

After all it is a wild animal. It is very difficult to understand its mind. It is a lone Tusker and its behaviour might change any moment. Hence, in the interest of the devotees it is better to drive the elephant back into the forest. – G.N. Manjunath, Tourist, Gundlupet

Wildlife lovers say that the behaviour of wild elephants keeps changing frequently. It will not tolerate if there is a change in its daily routine. “According to Wildlife Act, people cannot feed any kind of food to wild animals as this might alter its food intake. Apart from this, there is also a possibility of the Tusker bringing its partner or the herd to the temple,” said award-winning international wildlife photographer R.K. Madhu and wildlife lovers Shashikanth, Vidyasagar and Chidanand.