Odisha forest officials launch operation to rescue elephant stuck in river
A team of 80 forest officials from two forest divisions of Odisha launched a major operation to rescue an adult tusker that was trapped inside the swirling floodwaters of Mahanadi river near Mundali bridge of Cuttack district on Friday morning, officials said.
Assistant conservator of forest of Chandaka forest division, Sangram Mohanty, said the tusker, part of a 17-member herd that was trying to cross the river from Chandaka side to Banki late Thursday night, got swept by strong water current in the river that is now in spate. “All other elephants, except the tusker, could cross the river. The level of water was a little too high near the spot where the elephant got stuck. Though elephants are good swimmers it got tired and was looking for ways to get out,” said Mohanty.
Officials said on Friday locals found the tusker trumpeting and converged over the Mundali barrage as fire brigade personnel thought of ways to rescue the elephant. They first put a net around it to stop it from getting swept away and then planned to bring a crane to lift it out of the swirling waters.
A couple of hours later, the elephant however slowly regained its strength and started wading through the water though the water level kept on rising covering half its body. “Our personnel are throwing tree branches so that it eats something. The elephant has been stuck in the river for over six hours and needs to cross at least 20 metres to reach the riverbank. We are very hopeful that the elephant will make its way to the riverbank,” said Mohanty.
Wildlife expert and member of Odisha State Biodiversity Board, Jayanta Mardaraj said though elephants are good swimmers and regularly cross rivers without any problem, the water current may have been the stumbling block. After floodwaters were released from Hirakud reservoir over last week, Mahanadi has been in spate,” said Mardaraj.
He said the fragmentation of the elephant corridors was the main reason for the tusker’s woes. “The riverbank has been encroached by farmhouses and elephants are now taking longer routes to cross rivers. In my youth, I have seen elephants regularly crossing the river from Chandaka to Banki effortlessly. But encroachment on the riverbanks is a major issue,” he said.
In August this year, the National Green Tribunal ordered the Odisha government to notify 14 elephant corridors in the state within the next two months culminating in the realisation of the long-standing demands of elephant conservationists for declaration of the same that would give legal sanctity to the elephant paths.
Responding to a petition by wildlife conservationist Biswajit Mohanty the Eastern Zonal bench of the NGT said that the 14 corridors identified by Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, a non-profit public charitable trust involved in the conservation of Asian elephants in 13 of the 30 districts be notified within two weeks.
Mohanty had alleged that that though the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) had submitted details of elephant corridors in Odisha to the forest and environment department in 2012 for identification of 14 corridors with a length of 420.8 kms and a width of 0.08 km to 4.6 kms, no action was being taken for their formal notification under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.