The death of a 55-year-old elephant-tracker, Govindu, is no news to the urban world, but it has resulted in an irreparable loss to hundreds of farmers and the forest officials of Palamaner mandal of Chittoor district, which forms the core belt of the Koundinya Wildlife Sanctuary, that houses about 80 elephants.
The elephant tracker’s association with wild animals, the department staff, and farmers came to an end on Wednesday night, when he died following cardiac arrest while proceeding to join a farmer on night vigil. Farmers and forest staff mourned his sudden demise. A couple of staff were inconsolable at his funeral.
Divisional Forest Officer (Chittoor West) S. Ravi Shankar and Forest Range Officer (Palamaner) B. Srinivasulu immediately arranged financial assistance through personal funds to the family members of the deceased casual labourer. The officials said that they had not seen an elephant tracker like Govindu, who was “duty-minded to the extreme level”.
As a boy, Govindu, who belonged to the ST community, was in jubilation seeing the reappearance of the Asiatic elephant in the early 1980s in the Palamaner region.
A native of Kalvapalle village of Palamaner range, Govindu dropped out of school to support his family. During the last 40 years, he cherished an inseparable bond with wild elephants, herd after herd crisscrossing the sanctuary.
The officials and his colleagues say that Govindu used to join the jumbos in their hide and seek game, love them to the core, and befriend them to an extent that the crop-raiding animals would at once leave the fields the moment they see Govindu.
The farmers said that he played a major role in forming a 25-member team of elephant trackers over years, who are currently working in the Palamaner range. Any time, he would steer the team to protect the crops from wild jumbos.
The officials said that Govindu was an expert at firing crackers in the direction of the jumbos, to divert their attention. No animal would be hurt in the operations. His voice, familiar to the jumbos for decades, is enough to calm down the raging elephants, they said.
Mr. Ravi Shankar said that a couple of months ago, Govindu underwent treatment for a heart ailment. “Though we advised him to take rest, Govindu kept attending the errands to drive the elephants away from fields and track the movement of herds in the forests. He attended a village event a couple of days ago and suddenly reported sick. Before our staff made efforts to shift him to a hospital, he died,” he said.
“He had led several adventurous errands in tackling wild elephants. Though sick, he kept attending work as a day’s absence will impact the family’s economy. Not only will we, the jumbos will also miss him. His voice silenced now, it would be a task for us to handle the herds,” an elephant tracker said.