Karnataka: Misfired bullet hit Arjuna’s right leg, alleges mahout
BR Udaya Kumar, The New Indian Express
December 6, 2023
The death of famed Dasara elephant Arjuna (64) has led to speculation and
allegations, with experts questioning the method adopted for the operation,
and why the wild tusker was not shot at. Arjuna’s mahout has also accused
forest officials and veterinarians of allegedly shooting Arjuna instead of
the wild tusker.
Arjuna’s mahout Vinu, who broke down during his last rites at Yeslur range,
Hassan, said Arjuna might have died of an injury on his right leg. He
alleged that Arjuna was shot at when he was tussling with the wild tusker
in musth (heat), and the injury had slowed him and caused him to collapse.
The mahouts in Balle elephant camp, where Arjuna lived, said they were not
keen on sending him for the rescue operation.
Villagers Accuse Foresters of Negligence
“We had told forest staffers not to take him. Something told us it was not
right. But no one listened to us. Forest officials said he was needed and
took him away on November 23,” they said. The mahouts and experts also
pointed fingers at veterinarians and forest officials for darting their own
camp elephant Prashanth, instead of the wild tusker. Locals and angry
villagers staged a protest at the site, accusing forest officials of
negligence. They demanded that Arjuna’s last rites be done in Mysuru, as he
had carried the golden howdah for eight years and was the pride of the
Forest officials did not pay heed to their demand and completed the last
rites in the area where the tusker had died. Arjuna was buried with state
honours, and police fired three rounds as a mark of respect. Police had to
resort to a mild lathicharge to disperse the agitated crowd.
Chief Conservator of Forests, Hassan, Ravishankar told TNIE that a
postmortem was done and no bullet or dart injury was found on Arjuna. The
wound referred to is what he got when he hit a tree stump, while the other
injuries are a result of the rogue elephant charging at Arjuna with his
tusks. Deputy Conservator of Forests, Hassan, said Vinu is upset and making
“Arjuna died around 4pm Monday, but we were unable to go near his body
because he was surrounded by wild tuskers. We could reach Arjuna’s carcass
only after daybreak on Tuesday, and his body had started to emit a foul
smell. We had contacted the Mysuru royal family priest Prahalad, who had
said the auspicious time for the last rites was between noon and 12.30pm,
and until then, the body should not be touched. We decided to bury the
carcass at the same location, however, his tusks were sent to the
Forest, Environment and Ecology Minister Eshwar Khandre said two memorials
would be constructed in his honour — in Hassan and Mysuru.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Subhash Malkhade said:
“Wild elephant capture and radio collar operations are very risky. Wild
elephants have crude power. Shooting an elephant is different compared to a
leopard or tiger. A wild animal can be shot in two situations — self
defence or on orders of the PCCF. Arjuna was our strongest camp elephant
and our pride.”
I cannot live without Arjuna, says mahout
“Oh God, you should take my life also along with my Arjuna’s... I cannot
live without Arjuna,” wept Vinu alias Vinod, the handler of Dasara elephant
Arjuna who died fighting a rogue elephant during an elephant operation in
Dabballi forest in Sakleshpur taluk on Monday.
Vinod, who was deeply attached to Arjuna, was crying till the majestic
animal was laid to rest. Forest staff and police had to pacify Vinod and
separate him from Arjuna, as he held on to his trunk.
Vinod, said to be Arjuna’s best handler, strictly followed instructions
during elephant operations and at elephant camps, sources said.
Vinod broke down when Arjuna died and was shifted to HIMS Hospital in
Hassan. The doctor discharged him to attend Arjuna’s funeral, following a
request by forest officials. Vinod, who was controlling Arjuna during the
operation, jumped off and had a miraculous escape when the rogue elephant
intensified its attack.