Nature Without Borders

Inside an Elephant Capture

When we read of man-elephant conflict , we agree that “capture” is the most logical solution. But do we know what capturing a wild elephant actually means, what it looks like, what it feels like?

Kalyan Varma
Environmental Photojournalist

The escalating conflict between man and elephant in Hassan left the authorities with no option but to order the capture.

A dozen or so tame elephants were sent to Hassan to assist in the process, and once they reached the venue, it began. Sharpshooters armed with tranquillisers set out into the forest on foot to track the elephants. At first, they focussed on the males — and when one was found, they brought it down with tranquillisers. 

Forest officials and their helpers roped up the stunned elephant. The tame elephants then assisted, forced, and coaxed the captive to where the flat-bed lorries waited — a long, tedious procedure during which the wild elephant occasionally collapsed from the stress and the effort of resistance and had to be revived. Once at the loading zone, the tame elephants acting in concert with the commands from the mahout head-butted the wild elephant from in front, forcing it backwards into the lorry.

The procedure is traumatic — for the officials, for the tame elephants, for the wild captive and even for the observer. The video below are edited clips from over 20 hours of footage; it is very graphic in its detail — but it is an integral element of this narrative. When we read of man-elephant conflict and of the lives lost and property damaged, we agree that “capture” is the most logical solution. But do we know what capturing a wild elephant actually means, what it looks like, what it feels like?

Here it is:

77 thoughts on “Inside an Elephant Capture”

  1. Human-Elephant Conflict: The #s | thaumadsein
    August 12, 2015

    […] can only imagine how long the capture truly lasted – I was a bit shaken by the brutality of the entire ordeal. Born and raised in a busy international metropolitan in India, elephants for me were those wild […]

  2. An open letter to Daily Mail | Peepli Project Blog
    August 18, 2015

    […] of them had shot on his smartphone. Again, that is not true — the video they were watching was this one, shot by me and part of my narrative series. The mahouts were part of that operation, along with […]

  3. big sister grimm
    August 18, 2015

    I did not understand the ‘reason’ as to why the elephants should be captured….but the trauma for both captives and their elephant captors was horrendous to watch. I want to help to respect these marvellous emotional animals, but how can you trust the self- labeled helpers, charities who fail under scrutinisation… I deparately want to help to put things right for these animals..but how?

  4. kishore kumaran s
    September 24, 2015

    Amazing documentation sir. Unfortunately there is no better way to move the wild elephants. But i still feel instead of moving the elephants from their home and relocating, govt and forest dept could borrowed ideas from Valparai, Tamilnadu team. So that both humans and wild elephants can live peacefully side by side.