March 1, 2010

perhaps an elephant isn't such a good idea..

Elephant bolts jumbo BSP wedding in Meerut

Some fireworks Meerut did expect as BSP MP Kadir Rana's son got married to the party's Rajya Sabha MP Munquad Ali's daughter on Wednesday night. What it didn't bargain for was a 15-hour chase by 200 personnel drawn from three states, smashed vehicles, a blocked road and a town in panic - all over an elephant believed to be part of the grand wedding celebrations, which went berserk as "gunshots were fired", also as part of the celebrations.

Apparently it was a bad night for 35-year-old Sheru. Every year, a male elephant is in heat for up to seven days - a period called Musth, where they become aggressive and difficult to control - and Wednesday happened to be one of those days for Sheru. His mahout Shamil had bungled with his calendar calculations, and when the elephant went berserk around 11 pm, he simply disappeared.

As the venue was on the Meerut-Delhi road, one of the first casualties of the runaway tusker was traffic to and from the national capital. Sheru overturned parked vehicles, including a Ford Endeavor and a police highway patrol vehicle, damaging more than a dozen, held up traffic on the Meerut Bypass Road till 3 pm on Thursday, and tore down sugarcane plantations, before he was finally tranquilised and caught.

With the wedding drawing more attention than they had bargained for, both the groom and the bride's side were in denial mode on Thursday. There were conflicting accounts over how Sheru happened to be at the wedding venue in the first place: the first version said it was part of Rana's son Shah Mohd's baraat, confirmed by the MP's PA Shahzad; later he claimed the elephant was one of 15-16 lined up by bride Sumbul Parveen's family to welcome the baraatis; and then said Sheru may have strayed across from an elephant ashram nearby.

A report by the Chief Conservator of Forests's office says the elephant got out of control at a wedding venue and a case had been registered against the mahout for negligence in his duties.

There were as many stories on what set off Sheru's 15-hour frenzy. While eyewitnesses said guns had been fired, the PA blamed it on the traffic outside.

The Meerut police that sent more than 100 of its men on the elephant's trail realised quickly that they needed expert help. Chief Conservator of Forests (Western Zone), Meerut, A K Dwivedi got the first call around Wednesday midnight. He mobilised teams from Dehradun, Delhi and Lucknow, and armed with ropes, tranquilisers, rifles and darts, set off for the Meerut Bypass Road.

The team included members from the Wildlife Trust of India; an elephant specialist from Delhi, Dr Ashraf; Director of Wild Rescue Programme of the WTI; specialists from Rajaji National Park, Dehradun; an emergency team from Lucknow, consisting of Dr Utkarsh Shukla, a veterinarian at the Prince of Wales zoo; and divisional forest officers.

Dwivedi realised the gravity of what they were dealing with. "When elephants are in heat, they become dangerous. If left in a public place, they can cause a lot of damage," he says, adding that in period of heat, elephants are best kept confined.

When the teams reached the spot, they managed to corner Sheru in a tiny sugarcane field off the road, and dug trenches around to keep him confined. But Sheru simply jumped over the trenches and in no time was back on the road.

Finally at around 2 pm on Thursday, Dr Ashraf managed to tranquilise Sheru. An hour later, the animal was bound.

While a probe has been initiated against the mahout, who surfaced as quickly after Sheru had been caught and told officials he hailed from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, till Thursday evening Meerut Forest Department officials were undecided over where to keep the elephant.

They are also tracing the owner of the elephant to check if he had a valid licence to keep Sheru, as elephants are Schedule I animals. If needed, inquiries will be initiated against wedding parties, officials said.


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