capture operations

Meera Bhardwaj

For the first time in the conservation history of Karnataka, a lone elephant was seen in the dry and rocky landscape of Chitradurga. He had sneaked in a few days back and was found raiding maize farms. The tough and healthy young adult albeit with weak tusks is presently at Sakarebailu Elephant Camp after its capture on Monday.

In a well planned and executed operation, the state forest department captured this lone animal at Nandipur village. The pachyderm was named as Gandugali in remembrance of Nayaka kings. In a day long operation that was over before 4 pm, the team comprising of Chitradurga DCF, ACFs, RFOs, foresters, guards, watchers, three wildlife veterinarians and a sharp shooter, was headed by Ballari CCF Lingaraju. Drones were used for this operation to locate the tusker as the local forest staff did not have any experience in tracking elephants.

Five trained elephants – Abhimanyu, Gopalswamy and Krishna from Mathigodu Elephant Camp formed the core team while the other two – Sagar and Balanna from Sakrebailu Elephant Camp in the backup team were requisitioned for the capture operations. Three Wildlife Vets – Dr Vinay, Dr Prayag and Dr Mujeeb were called for the Gandugali capture operations.

capture operations

CCF Lingaraju said, “Good team work and we wanted the operations to be completed before 6 pm as the area was located near farms and human settlements. My first priority was no causalities and with many staff unused to seeing elephants in this landscape, we deployed drones on a high hillock where an RFO was based on a vantage point. With the animal being tracked in the village, the tusker was darted and captured. Despite being darted, Gandugali gave a tough fight to Abhimanyu and resisted being captured. Physically very fine excepting his tusk base which is very small, he is in now in a kraal at Sakarebailu and in the next six months, he will be groomed for future activities.”

With no post capture complications, Gandugali was revived and brought to a platform, lifted by a crane and then transported in the night to Sakarbailu, some 150 kilometers away that took four hours.

The transportation of the elephant to Shivamogga’s Sakarebailu elephant camp took so much of time as it was done as per IUCN guidelines and also accompanied by wildlife vets Dr Vinay and Dr Prayag H S and the forest department staff .

capture operations

Bannerghatta Herds

Now did Gandugali come from Bhadra or Bannerghatta landscape?  Most probably from Bannerghatta as a group of two to three herds have been regularly traversing from Bannerghatta to Tumakuru to Bhukapatna toTiptur border. But this is the first time an elephant has come as far as the dry, rocky terrain of Chitradurga. The CCF remarks Hiriyur was the last point for traversing these ‘not so well defined elephant corridor’ from Bannerghatta in the last 5-6 years for some herds. Maybe, it is the continuous patch between Hiriyur and Jogimatti which may have attracted Gandugali this far. Lately, the vegetation cover has improved a lot and consolidated in Jogimatti and so the tusker may have come on its own.

Gandugali is in the middle being led by trained elephants.
Gandugali is in the middle being led by trained elephants.

For the Chitradurga forest staff, it was a scary time being involved in the operations as this dry and rocky terrain has never supported pachyderms. So drones were used to track the animal as it was tough for local staff to do it unlike in Kodagu or Chamarajnagara where the Soliga tribes are experts in tracking wildlife.

Loss of Corridors

Wildlife activists bemoan the loss of corridors and fragmentation of forest landscapes. They add, “Linear structures like highways, underpasses, roads, power projects, etc have taken a heavy toll on the paths of elephants in Karnataka. Gandugali, a young elephant has lost its freedom for ever. It should not have been sent to Sakarebailu as this is basically meant for rehabilitation of mutt and temple elephants which even the HC appointed committee on Elephant Camps has recommended. Wildlife elephants being put here is indeed saddening……”

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