Elephant in mourning guards its dead calf in Gudalur forest

Officials have been waiting for four days for it to move out

February 22, 2020 01:21 am | Updated 09:31 am IST - UDHAGAMANDALAM

The female elephant standing near the body of the calf.

The female elephant standing near the body of the calf.

For the last four days, forest officials and staff have been witnessing a moving scene: a female elephant standing guard over the carcass of its 18-month-old calf that died after getting stuck in a swamp in Padanthorai beat in Gudalur forest range. It does not allow anyone to get near the carcass. Nor does it accept the food given by forest staff.

Stating that it is unusual for a mother to stay put near the carcass of its calf for more than two days, forest officials are worried that this could harm the health of the elephant. Workers of a tea estate noticed the carcass on Monday and informed the Forest Department.

When the forest staff tried to approach the carcass to perform a post-mortem, the mother elephant began charging at them. Forest officials decided to wait till the mother, as well as the rest of the herd, to move out of the area. However, the herd has stayed put for four consecutive days.

Forest Range Officer of Gudalur division G. Ramakrishnan said “I have seen many instances where the mother safeguards the carcass for a period of time. But, usually, they move away after a couple of days when the body starts decomposing.” But, this was the first time he had seen a female elephant refusing to leave even after four days.

District Forest Officer of Gudalur division Sumesh Soman said the department was concerned over the health of the mother. “We are unsure if she is taking food as she spends the day guarding the carcass. So we tried to leave some watermelons and fruits nearby so that she could keep her strength,” he said.

But, the elephant has refused to touch the food and water provided by the department.

Mr. Ramakrishnan said the mother and two other adult elephants of the herd were taking refuge in a nearby forest during some parts of the day. “However, if they hear people nearby, they rush out and stand guard over the calf and refuse to let us anywhere near it,” he said.

‘Emotional bond’

The incident highlights the deep emotional bond elephants have with each another, also showing how similar it is to the one among humans, said Mr. Soman.

“It shows that the death of a member of the herd has a very deep and profound impact on the other elephants in the herd, and also serves to reinforce the need to conserve and protect these amazing animals,” he said.

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