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. ASHOK HALLUR
    June 29, 2015

    Beautiful captured Elephant movements by Kalyan Varma

    People never wanted Elephants to be out of Hassan only politicIan’s wanted them out to get more Votes and Elephants Experts failed to Stop it from Removing them from that forest and Even FD also don’t know what to say at court and finally no option to Capture all 23

    I will never forget this incident and So called Man always win and Elephants won’t protest themselves at court…………

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Ashok, I do not think the issue is that simple. The politicians represent the voice of the people and the forest department has done everything within in its capacity to save the elephants.

  2. Naveen JS
    June 29, 2015

    Wonderfully composed video. Respect towards Forest guards and dept has increased. But wanted to know what happened to those elephants which were captured with so much pain. Did they have the happy ending after the painful fight and journey?

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Naveen, all the males have been taken into captivity now. Their future is being decided as we speak and more about that in the subsequent posts.

  3. Karthik Davey
    June 29, 2015

    Very touching and sad scenes. Cant the KFD have any modern equipment to make the capture humane. Though capture cant be the only option!

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 29, 2015

      They are open for anything surely. But lack of budgets and capacity.

  4. Alphonse Roy
    June 29, 2015

    More than comments , I have a lot of questions. Why did they capture the males ? It is the matriarch which has the memory of grazing routes and the plays the role of the leader and leads the herd to these places of conflict. Arbor district in West Bengal has great track record of managing elephant and human conflict zones by capturing elephants from these Zones. It was captured by the ” Mezhala Shikkar method”. I was part of an Animal Planet film called “The Elephant Men” in that the Elephants were captured by the Assamese Mezhala Shikkar method and later trained in a Kraal by the mahouts from Karnataka in a very Humane way. My conscience doesn’t approve of what I have seen in this footage. Plus the the un shown second half of the story gives the feeling that things were much worse than we anticipate. Alphonse Roy.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 29, 2015

      The locals feel that the tuskers are the main issue. After this the females were captured, which is lot worse than this one. Don’t know if I will ever be able to put that footage out.

    • Aditya
      June 30, 2015

      I have a different view on this. Capturing the matriarch would leave the herd without a head which in turn would result in loss of direction and discipline in the herd. Without the matriarch, there would be no one to control the ‘mischief makers’ within the herd and no one to lead them to food and water (on the traditional migratory routes). The directionless herd is then forced to move in a random direction where it comes into contact with people.

      The tuskers are supposedly more ‘mischievous’ given that they roam wherever they want and do whatever they want and probably this is the reason they are said to cause more havoc.

  5. Alphonse Roy
    June 29, 2015

    Thanks Kalyan for reaching it to us.

  6. this is heartrending…makes one feel so helpless…

  7. Vijay Mohan Raj
    June 29, 2015

    Kalyan, wonderful documentary. I would reserve my comments after seeing all the parts. One thing is sure if we want to conserve a species, conflict animals need to be addressed whether the process is pleasant or otherwise. It is similar to the process of a surgeon removing a diseased part in the welfare of the patient.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 29, 2015

      Vijay, I am with you on this. Although it is painful to see this, the situation in hassan demanded a drastic action.

      The point of this is not to have a yes/no to conservation actions, but for people to debate about the issues of living with wild animal and what it feels like

  8. Anand Vishwanadha
    June 29, 2015

    This is one of the most heart-rending videos I have ever seen. I guess its impossible for most of us “humans” to even imagine the trauma that these magnificent animals must have gone through.

    Sad that this happens in this day and age, that too, in the land of Ganesha!

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      If we do not debate and engage in this issue, this will only get worse.

  9. Vikramjit Singh Bal
    June 29, 2015

    Hi Kalyan,
    Very heartbreaking to see what was happening. I am not saying RIGHT or WRONG. Mitigation of conflict is necessary. And also for conservation of wildlife at a macro level, some individuals might have to suffer.

    Maybe there are better ways to do this. Maybe those ways require more resources and specialization. Maybe your film will make a difference. I think it will make people to sit up and notice and maybe act. People who make make policies.
    Kudos to you.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Thank you Vikramjit. You are right. This issue has to be tackled from many fronts, from improving capturing method to having a long term policy.

  10. Anilkumar GT
    June 29, 2015

    Kalyan / Maddy ….wonderful documentary. Heart wrenching to see so much pain all round….. we as humans have so much to learn….
    where were the elephants released ? or were they taken to elephant training camps ?

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Anil, all the males were taken into captivity.

  11. Upendra Bhojani
    June 29, 2015

    I had only read about this painful process (f0r everyone involved) happening in past at Bengaluru railway station somewhere in a book by Kenneth Anderson. You made me witness this. I just love your writings/videos and specially this peepli.org. Its so powerful to make people think beyond binaries. I work in health sector, especially around some inevitable conflicts, and I have a lot to learn from you.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Thank Upen. We hope to have a health related vertical on peepli sometime in the future and would love to have you contribute.

  12. Only one word for humans…. cruel

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      This is not about humans being cruel. Its about them protecting their lives and livelihood and the story is now a simple black and white.

  13. Mallikarjun
    June 29, 2015

    It was so sad to watch it… what are we humans doing, just manipulating the nature how ever we want… Very sad…
    This video has to reach every one on the social media. People have to think before unnecessarily buying new houses, new cars, wasting food, making roads, using power… All such greedy acts have lead the state of wildlife what we see today…

  14. rajkumar
    June 29, 2015

    Painfully eye opening subject ! very sad…. Amazing video !…. great video capture Kalyan Varma… hats off …

  15. Kalyan , this was heart wrenching, I was crying uncontrollably, throughout. Must have hit u real hard, watching helplessly. Gosh.

  16. Chinmai Hemani
    June 29, 2015

    Saddened to see this documentary.it was disturbing .. Arent we are trying to tackle a symptom n not disease which is rampant urbanisation and unplanned growth ? Is capturing animals the only solution? And what happens to elephants in captivity , will they be domesticated tusks removed ?

  17. Arun s k
    June 29, 2015

    Nice documentation …sad but sometimes inevitable for the survival of the species …

  18. Siddhartha
    June 29, 2015

    A very powerful yet thought provoking Documentary and raises so many questions on alternative methods of capturing Elephants. Though the physical wounds are superficial and would heal in no time, I can only but imagine the kind of mental trauma these Giants had to go through and how it would affect their behavior in the future. For all we know their hatred towards the human kind would only multiply after being made to go through an ordeal like this thus making them more aggressive than usual at the sight of humans.

    One needs heart of steal to carry on filming such an ordeal. Kudos to you and your Team for bringing this up.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      The psychological wounds are indeed much more painful and with the big memory of elephants, it is bound to stay with them.

  19. Heartbreaking to say the least..great work..I suppose the gundya hydel project has a lot to do with the WEM in hassan?

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Yes. I have worked in that area and people attribute the rise in conflict to building of dams in developmental activities.

  20. A number of people after watching this video have a knee jerk reaction of how cruel the humans are. I would encourage everyone who read this article to read the entire series starting from http://peepli.org/stories/the-story-of-suprita/. There are two sides to this story. And we should also remember that the human encroachment such as dam building ultimately provides people like us (sitting in urban areas) food, water and electricity. So we should not have a holier than thou attitude about this. Nevertheless it is painful and heart wrenching to watch an animal go through this pain. I wonder if there could be any other way this task could be accomplished. Ultimately the buck needs to stop with the government which needs to have a foresight for such problems when acquiring natural resources and not just (mis)govern by reacting.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Very well said Manish. The whole point of this long form journalism is for people to understand the larger issue. It is really depressing and its not one vs the other for sure.

  21. Sindhu B S
    June 29, 2015

    That’s so sad to watch… ! Wish they had better way to handle …
    It was an amazing video though, thanks for the post !

  22. varun joshi
    June 30, 2015

    Horrifying that our own brothers are so cruel
    Do you have the video when all of them were freed?Did they relocate them to the same forest.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Varun, they were not relocated. They have all been taken into captivity and are being broken down so that they could be used in elephant camps.

  23. It’s very shocking to see how humans are capable of taming the wildest of creatures in the most inhuman way possible.. I just wish one day; the nature will take revenge and the mighty human folk will not be able to control that…

  24. Aparna Prabhu
    June 30, 2015

    Hi Kalyan,

    Could you briefly explain why it was much harder to capture the females?
    Did they have cubs with them?

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Aparna, this was because the mother and calf had to be split up and although they were going though the same amount of torture, the mother was only worried about the calf which was taken away.

  25. Jayavelu
    June 30, 2015

    Nice capture Kalyan, why could they not consider doing this – tranquillize the elephant, secure them safely via proper body straps and then use helicopter to lift them and place in lorry, instead of such a traumatic procedure?

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      If I remember right, it was about 8 lakhs for each elephant capture. This includes the cost of all the captive elephants, 100’s of forest officials and days of looking after them. In India, the chopper options are too expensive and the forest department does not have enough budgets for that.

  26. Masthan Ali khan
    June 30, 2015

    We usually saw plenty of different videos and feel sad, But this frames makes our eyes filled with tears, Thanks to Kalyan Varma for such a Lovely Capture, I belong to Hyderabad I don’t know what makes to shift elephants to some other location.
    Assuming that this all elephants to be placed in good climatic conditions with full freedom.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Unfortunately No. They have been taken in captivity and will end up mostly in some elephant camp to entertain tourists 🙁

  27. When did these events occur, Kalyan? I have witnessed a similar capture in the same area a few years back and I agree with you that it is indeed a very difficult situation out there. You cannot ignore the problems of both sides when such conflicts occur.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      When did you see it Aditya? All this was around this time last year (2014)

  28. A. Shrikumar
    June 30, 2015

    Though it makes sense that this kind of a capture and relocation operation is inevitable to sustain elephant population, by way of giving them a better place for living elsewhere, like Bandipur or Nagarhole, I only wish the capture was carried out in a better way, with proper equipment and help from wildlife experts or scientists. This was so crude and sad. The government should show as much sagacity in releasing funds for such relocation operations, so that they are done in a way that’s sensitive and dignified for the wild creatures.

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      Only public pressure will do that and we hope these stories will enable that. The animals are all been taken into captivity, but we must say no to temple and tourist elephants as that is where they will eventually end up.

  29. Kalyan, what are the chances that the elephants will ever walk free again?

    • Kalyan Varma
      June 30, 2015

      The task force has said that the males will usually come back and even if they do not, they will move out of the forest where they are relocated and the conflict will just move. So all the males have been taken into captivity and are being broken down.

  30. Ajay A. Desai
    June 30, 2015

    All that head butting and dragging of a young animal is really not needed. A little bit of xylazine and the animal can be loaded with minimal fuss and smaller animals can be handled much better – absolutely no justification to handle it that way – we are loosing our skills and knowledge. Also it is all of us – starting with Kalyan and me and the readers – our computers, gadgets, our coffee, our holidays, our need for power, etc etc – which is why these elephants are being captured! So stop shedding crocodile tears and express you sympathies when we stop becoming a part of the problem!

    • Kalyan Varma
      July 1, 2015

      Thanks for commenting Ajay. Why can’t xylazine be mandatory? I know its much harder to get, but still this protocol should be in place right?

  31. Sandeep R
    June 30, 2015

    Great work Kalyan! Very impressive to see your personal evolution from the days of livejournal with set of beautiful images to conveying a very powerful conservation story.

    Do you consider making a full edit video to convey struggle of people who suffered from elephants, challenge of forest department to keep peace and the havoc elephants caused before this drastic measure? I see many of the comments are focused on this heart wrenching video and somewhat miss the two sides of the story you’ve conveyed in the other posts. Suffering is on both sides and no solution is easy.

  32. Pavithra Raghava
    June 30, 2015

    Can’t the herd be kept together after being taken into captivity instead of being sent to different places ? Is that a viable option ? Will that make it less agonising for the animal ?

  33. Mahadev HN
    July 1, 2015

    Great photography Kalyan.

    How badly these gentle giants were treated,. We occupy their territory, we destroy their homes (forest) and we also capture them to make our life better.
    This is the limit of inhumanity.
    Heart felt condolence for these four legged beauties and feeling ashamed to be a human.

  34. Karthik Ak
    July 1, 2015

    Kalyan Varma thank you for documenting the capture of wild elephants and showing it to the world how heart-wrenching the process would be.
    Do share the capture of the mother and calf as well. I know it will more heart breaking than this. Capturing is not the solution. There has to be some other way to tackle this.
    Is the operation to capture all the wild elephants? Why didn’t the forest department tranquilize the elephants? I see the “domesticated” elephants that were used to push the wild ones also bleeding!! it must have been traumatic for both.

    Very sad!!

  35. Horrible. I think it’s unacceptable to capture wild elephants and forcing them to live in captivity afterwards. Even more than African elephants, Asian elephants face extinction in this century. So, at least, they should be relocated. I also think that the methods which are shown in this video are cruel and unnecessary. There are wildlife conservation organizations which have experience in the capture and relocation of wild elephants. Just today I read this article about the rehabilitation of two y0ung elephants in India: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/rehabilitated-elephant-calves-return-to-the-wild-in-india/

    As far as I know, IFAW already relocated other Elephants in Africa and Asia. Local authorities should ask them or other organizations to help.

  36. Leanne Fogarty
    July 2, 2015

    Thank you, Kalyan. Does the fact that the elephants were not relocated but trained for entertainment/tourism uses, not suggest that HEC (Human Elephant Conflict) was not the real cause of this campaign? Especially if – as someone said – the
    locals did not want them moved and half the staff refused to take part in the female capture. On another note, if the elephants were sold to elephant camps and other purchases the considerable size of the sale would pay for expensive but more humane capture methods such as helicoptors.

  37. Krishnaprasad (KP)
    July 4, 2015

    Heart wrenching scenes of how these massive animals have been captured… Glad u did not show how the calves and mothers were taken… Using their own kind to put them in a lorry container or rather for if them into it which is small than their girth .. Bleeding tusks.the fatigue and trauma it goes through..Kalyan thanks for this

  38. Murali Subu
    July 4, 2015

    1. Before we capture, we must have a plan to relocate them all.
    2. Man must be stopped from encroaching into their areas. This has to be enforced in a manner where there is fear of death. The punishment for Encroachments has to be death. If there is no fear then you might as well shoot all the elephants! Kill a few encroahers at Rs 100 per head (cost of a bullet I assume these days). You will see them all run. This is enforcement at its best…
    3. If there is no enforcement then we might as well save all the BULLSHIT about Ganesha on one side and humane treatment on the other. Wild Elephants in camps is the most inhumane!!
    4. So we might as well save the bullshit and the Rs 8 Lakhs per elephant and spend Rs 100 for a bullet for each. Come on what’s better for these poor creatures – death or life in inhumane captivity…Think about it…
    Murali Subu (a lover of wildlife of every kind)

  39. Anoop Ronald
    July 5, 2015

    Not many people knew the in and out of such operations thank you sir you’ve always been an inspiration through your documentation skills its high time people understand the pain that those pachyderms go through at least through such a strong video ..

  40. Anuradha
    July 6, 2015

    So so sad. There is an old belief, “do not make the elephants cry.” Apparently, there was a king (Dhenkanal, Odisha)who wanted to build a 100 room palace atop a hill (Jatan Nagar) in the forest and connect it with a rope way to his existing palace. The people were made to work as slaves. The elephants were made to carry all material, stones up in the hills, so treacherous, torturous, that the elephants cried. That palace never got built, there was a revolt (many reasons though for the revolt) and his kingdom collapsed and the British found enough ways to occupy. I understand we do not think much of such sentiments any more, but whatever is the “palace” that we are trying to build at the cost of so much damage to other life forms, is unlikely to work.

  41. Divya lakshmi.V
    July 6, 2015

    It is so painful to watch. How can we human be so inhuman to vulnerable/less powerful beings. Court/Judges should think before passing an order.

  42. Sagi Krishna Prasad
    July 6, 2015

    Heart rending and difficult to digest. But I am not blaming. Do you have links to show .. How such things are done elsewhere .. in a better way? and what is possible .. for us to get an understanding. Regards.

  43. manjunath
    July 6, 2015

    Thanks for sharing this Kalyan. The forest department has to deal with a very complex relationship with plantation owners, farmers, politicians, locals… they are blamed for both their actions and in-actions. I hope with the new environmentally conscious ifs officers collaboration with advisors and research organisations the department would be well funded and the budget utilized in the right direction.

  44. Jaikrishna Soundararajan
    July 7, 2015

    Very sad to see the pain the elephants undergo. We build dams in the corridors through which they travel in search of water and finally blame them for conflicts… tears are rolling down seeing the blood stained tusks…

  45. This is disgusting. Even after reading this whole series, how can you watch that video and think that this the best outcome or fair.

    There are hardly two sides to this story. Its in an Elephants nature to do what it is they do. Humans are the ones with the brains to figure out a humane and logical solution and we come up with putting them in tourist camps?
    Going through a capture like that is bad enough, for both the broken elephants and the wild ones. But imagine how much worse it is going to have to get to break the spirt of a fully grown bull elephant.
    They would be better off dead.

  46. Tomislav Krantic
    July 8, 2015

    India is more crruelty country, same like her sister China ! I ll never forget what I am seen here ! Very shameful for India !

  47. Kalyan, weren’t they supposed to have been transported to another forest? Why are they being kept in captivity and broken? Were the mothers and calves spared? What’s happening to them now?

  48. Shreyas Dharmadhikari,Mumbai
    July 14, 2015

    Hello Kalyan first of all thank you for making the footage and posted it,without watching we could not be aware of the situation of Elephants. I think the innocent is going through such a heart breaking Trauma and the Culprit is moving free and destroying everything. Capturing few animals and moving them from that place is not the Solution. Its the temporary fixation. It needs a permanent Solution. Human is entering to their habitats not they are entering,then why they have to pay such a painful torcher I must say. Human is destroying everything,wherever he put his steps it is only creating mess…. These things should be stop…. people and govt.has to understand who is in fault and who has to move.

  49. Chandra Sekhar
    July 14, 2015

    Unbelievable,,Hard to digest..But they r not killing / relocating them as they will be taken to captivity .Nice work by Tamed Elephant & Hats off to KFD .Always remember This is not about humans( India) being cruel, its about them protecting their lives and livelihood .
    It is easy to give Comments but Hard to Digest. Tnx to kalyan varma sir

  50. This reminds me of a tiger “sultan”. It was a world famous tourist attraction. That tiger was know to be very dominant and even the forest rangers feared to enter it’s territory.
    The tiger killed three people. It wasn’t a man eater, it just defended it’s territory from intruders. The people living near by had raised alarms out of fear even though the tiger never strayed into villages. The forest department captured the tiger and moved it to captivity.
    There was a huge outcry about it and the forest department answered as below.

    “We love the animal more than any of you people. We moved it to save its life from angry villagers. We prefer the tiger to be in captivity over it being killed “.

    Yes the elephant’s capture might sound harsh but them dying form poisoning or electric fencing is much more of a harm