When elephants first turned up in Hassan, Karnataka, they were objects of fascination. They had never been a part of the landscape, with local documents and the people themselves scarcely mentioning any of the big animals turning up. Then, suddenly, in the 1980s, elephants began coming to Hassan more often. And the novelty quickly ran out.
The animals would show up by the dozens, and the herds would descend upon the local farms, destroying in one night the work of an entire season. And in the process, people started losing their lives too.
According to local records, there were 276 instances of elephants attacking humans between 1986 and 2006, with 33 people killed. People became afraid to go out in the evenings, parents can still recount children who were lost to elephant attacks.
So the authorities decided they would have to do something about it. In 2014, based on a report by the Karnataka Elephant Task Force, the Karnataka High Court ordered that all elephants in Hassan be captured.
But this is much easier said than done. Elephants are big, intelligent animals – that are also protected by law. This means that relocating just one wild elephant involves dozens of humans, 10 tame elephants acting as shields for the humans and an entire night’s worth of work to get each one into a lorry that will transport them.
The process is traumatic, for the humans, for the tame elephants and for the wild creature that has suddenly been chained. Indeed, the actual task of capturing these animals was so distressing that, by the time they got to the female elephants and calves, half the Karnataka forest staff refused to participate.
In all 23 elephants were captured and relocated from Hassan since 2004. With Inside an Elephant Capture, Kalyan Varma, an environmental photojournalist, shows you just how distressingly difficult the actual task of moving these massive animals can be in his series of articles for peepli.org. Varma’s compelling series of reports from Hassan tell the story of the havoc wrought by the wild creatures on the humans of Hassan, and how they have come to deal with the trauma.
Below, you can see the full nine-minute video of elephant captures that Varma culled from 20 hours of footage covering these dramatic encounters:
For most of us, man-animal conflict is something that we will readily agree should be avoided. Actually carrying out that task, however, involves work that is neither easy to do or comfortable to watch.