Karnataka: Misfired bullet hit Arjuna’s right leg, alleges mahout

The mahouts in Balle elephant camp, where Arjuna lived, said they were not keen on sending him for the rescue operation.
Karnataka: Misfired bullet hit Arjuna’s right leg, alleges mahout

HASSAN/BENGALURU: 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.  

People pay tributes to howdah elephant Arjuna
in Sakleshpur on Tuesday | Express

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 Jumboo Savari. 

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 such statements.

“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 department depot.” 

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.

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