GUWAHATI, Nov 17 - In what shocked the State as well as raised serious doubts over the manner in which it was tranquillised and captured, the adult wild elephant brought to Orang National Park from Goalpara died a traumatic death today.
�The animal � over ten feet tall and weighing around 5.5 tonnes � appeared healthy last evening. It was given sugarcane and bananas. However, it breathed its last at around 4:30 this morning,� a forest official said.
The forest department rushed a team of veterinarians to Orang to study the causes for the elephant�s death.
The around-40-year-old animal, which had reportedly killed five people on October 29, was captured on Monday. It was taken in a truck to Orang the next day evening.
While there was no major external injury on the elephant�s body, activists and even some in the forest department have blamed the �torture� the elephant faced during its capture.
�Whatever happened is absolutely unwarranted. There was no proper planning, especially with regard to what to do after its tranquillisation. Its capture and aftermath were traumatic and could have been prevented,� said a member of the committee formed to study the elephant.
He said the elephant was knocked down using kunkis (trained elephants) while it was in a fully sedated state. This act was �completely uncalled for as the animal would have dropped down gradually on its own,� he added.
�Also, the operation to capture the elephant was done in haste and in complete breach of protocol. It was carried out before three members of the committee could reach the site. It was not a team work, as someone was desperate to grab centre-stage in the capture,� he said.
There were also allegations that veterinarians faced intimidation during the operation and tasks were carried out without their approval.
After it was tranquillised, the animal was kept under the sun for too long, another eyewitness said, even as some raised doubts if two doses of tranquilliser were actually needed to sedate it.
�As the limbs of the animal were tied, it could not get up after recovering. We saw it banging its head on the ground apparently in a fit of rage,� another eyewitness said, adding that this could have resulted in serious internal head injuries.
Though the forest department is tight-lipped on the lapses during the capture of the elephant, a senior official admitted that there were �multiple commands working� resulting in confusion and lack of clarity.
A wildlife activist said that the forest department cannot evade responsibility for the tragedy, as �it is the mandated authority to ensure full supervision of the capture and post-capture care of the elephant. It may engage somebody to capture the elephant but cannot shirk its responsibility and allow free hand to that person to do things whimsically.�
In a statement today after the elephant�s death, the forest department said there were several injuries and festering wounds on the animal prior to its capture. However, earlier, the officials had made no mention about any such wound and had said the elephant was healthy.
Preliminary findings indicate cardiac arrest as the cause of death and the detailed postmortem report is awaited. The carcass was buried at the Orang training centre with due honours at around 4 pm in the presence of Chief Wildlife Warden MK Yadav after the postmortem was completed.