‘Elephant Prashantha was darted by accident as wild tusker charged at Arjuna’
By M.T. Yogesh Kumar
Mysore/Mysuru: Amidst the controversy surrounding the demise of Dasara elephant Arjuna and facing criticism from Mahouts, Kavadis and wildlife activists for the perceived mishandling of the operation, including the firing of the tranquilliser dart, Nagarahole Tiger Reserve Veterinarian Dr. H. Ramesha, who was one of the participants in the operation, has spoken out for the first time.
Speaking to Star of Mysore about the recent elephant capture operation in Yeslur, Hassan and the subsequent confrontation with the wild elephant that led to Arjuna’s unfortunate demise, the veterinarian said, “The huge wild tusker was positioned within a dense and thorny thicket and he abruptly and violently charged at Arjuna even before the tranquilliser dart could be fired. Arjuna’s tragic demise has deeply saddened me,” he said.
Only double-barrel guns
Clarifying that he accidentally darted another elephant named Prashantha, not Arjuna, Dr. Ramesha refuted the allegations made by Arjuna’s Mahout Vinu that Arjuna was hit by a bullet. “Our team only possessed double-barrel guns and a single bullet is ruled out,” he said.
Recalling the operation on Dec. 4 at KFDC grove near Dabballikatte in the Yeslur Range of the Hassan division, Dr. Ramesha, also recovering from injuries, the trauma of the challenging operation and Arjuna’s loss, explained that a sharp wooden piece had pierced Arjuna’s left leg, causing the nail to come off and he succumbed to the injuries sustained during the violent encounter with the wild elephant.
“We started the operation at 11 am and six elephants including Arjuna were taken to capture two wild tuskers. I was sitting on Arjuna along with his mahout Vinu and on top of Karnataka Bheema sat Mahout Gunda and assistant Anil while Dubare DRFO Ranjan sat on Prashantha along with his Mahout. Initially we spotted a herd and the tusker that was identified for capture was not in that herd,” Dr. Ramesha recounted.
“The team proceeded further and we spotted a huge tusker behind a thorny bush. However, this tusker was not identified for capture. The tusker that was in musth condition, suddenly charged at Arjuna and this happened in a flash before we could fire the tranquilliser dart at him. The tusker pierced Arjuna’s cheek and due to the sheer force, we were pushed from Arjuna’s back. I was dangling with a tranquilliser gun in one hand and a rope on the other. Mahout Vinu pulled me on top. Later, we alighted from Arjuna’s back and meanwhile, after a few moments, the wild tusker charged again and both the tuskers fought for over five minutes,” he narrated.
Dart on Prashantha
“When I lost balance from Arjuna’s top as the wild tusker pushed Arjuna, the safety lock of the tranquilliser gun opened accidentally and as my hand was in the trigger button, it pressed, releasing the dart. The dart hit the foreleg of Prashantha and DRFO Ranjan informed us. Immediately, we rushed to Prashantha, who was slipping into a sleepy mode and gave him an antidote to revive,” Dr. Ramesha recalled.
Recalling the fight between Arjuna and the wild tusker, Dr. Ramesha said that the fight was so severe that over two-acres of vegetation was cleared. “The staff opened air fire but it did not deter the wild tusker and it continued attacking Arjuna, who collapsed after some time. Moreover, a sharp wooden piece had pierced Arjuna’s nails and it was bleeding and was in immense pain, incapacitating him further,” he added.
For the record, Dr. Ramesha has actively participated in 65 elephant capture operations in the last five years and darted 45 elephants, seven tigers, 60 leopards and 10 sloth bears in the past five years.