In a region fraught with man-animal conflict and bloodshed, here’s a story that warms the heart. A tusker smashed a house to bits in a village in West Bengal’s Purulia district on Monday night but when it heard a 10-month-old baby crying under the debris, it turned back and carefully removed every last bit of stone, brick and mortar from the infant’s body before heading back to the forest.
It’s all the more surprising because the lone tusker has killed at least three people in the last year, say forest officers. The family in Olgara village was still in awe when TOI met them on Tuesday. Mother Lalita Mahato said: “We worship Lord Ganesh (the elephant god) in our village. Still, I can’t believe that the tusker saved my daughter after breaking down the door and smashing a wall. We watched amazed as it gently removed the debris that had fallen on her. It’s a miracle.”
The child’s father, Dipak Mahato, said they were having dinner around 8pm when they suddenly heard a “cracking sound” and then a huge crash from the bedroom. “We ran over and were shocked to see the wall in pieces and a tusker standing over our baby. She was crying and there were huge chunks of the wall lying all around and on the cot,” he said. “The tusker started moving away but when our child started crying again, it returned and used its trunk to remove the debris.”
They took the girl to Deben Mahato Sadar Hospital. She has some external injuries from the debris falling on her but is not in danger. Hospital superintendent Neelanjana Sen said the infant is stable but they will keep her under observation for 48 hours.
“Unless people attack an elephant, these gentle giants do not harm human beings. They only come down here in search of food,” Purulia DFO Om Prokash said. “What’s really surprising is that this elephant left the little girl alive even after damaging the house. It seems to have a heart, too,” Jhalda ranger Samir Bose said, adding that the lone tusker was last spotted resting in Ghoshra forest on Tuesday evening.
It has damaged at least 17 houses in Mathadi, Kasidih and Ghoshra village areas while the 18-member herd has only damaged crops in the field, Bose said.
The man-elephant conflict in these parts has risen over the past few years because of change in land-use pattern that has blocked the elephants’ traditional migration routes. Herds routinely raid farms and villages and smash houses. Bose said it is very hard to monitor the movement of a lone elephant. Another herd of 18 elephants is roaming in nearby Hensa forest.