Pachyderm peril

As the demented Gobind Singh rushed with maddening fury at the doctor camouflaged in the midst of dense vegetation, rapidly moving scenes of a happy family life coming to an abrupt, tragic end put the healer out in cold sweat. Twice shot at, Gobind Singh had always nurtured his hatred for humans. Musth in elephants is, indeed, a dangerous state to every life and limb in the animal kingdom.

Cunning and dangerous now, Gobind Singh was in musth and he had killed over 29 people, including his owner, a Singpho gentleman, and his handler. Even approaching Gobind Singh was a certainty laced with death. Waiting for them at least 70 feet away, Gobind zoomed across in a flash, almost as fast as the mind in action. Rooted to the ground – as cold as ice, the doctor somehow began to run for his life. In a blur, he suddenly saw a bare-bodied dwarf emerge from a bamboo grove. Just about three-four meters behind the running doctor, the murderous Gobind Singh – transfixed by the strange dwarf – lost his direction. “It’s in these times and situations that members of the medical fraternity lose their strength, and God takes over,” says Dr. Kushal Konwar Sarma, Head of the Department of Surgery, Veterinary College, Guwahati, recounting his life-and-death adventure with Gobind Singh, the outlaw tusker.

Gobind Singh had earlier been shot with a tranquilizer gun by Kutum, the hunter, along with Narayan Sarma – Dr. Konwar Sarma’s brother-in-law from the Guijan forest range. When Dr. Konwar disappeared from Gobind Singh’s line of vision, the tusker came face to face with Narayan Sarma. Gobind Singh trampled him to death. Covered by a pall of gloom over Narayan Sarma’s death, Dr. Konwar Sarma was informed that a dwarf had never been seen in the area. Later, SP Tinsukia, Pradip Saloi – Dr. Kushal Konwar’s classmate, and now the Commissioner of Police, Guwahati – came over and took the doctor to his residence in Tinsukia.

In another incident, a young tusker – around 14 years – was electrocuted at the Paneri Tea Estate area in Udalguri. Frantically contacted by the manager, Anand, and Adhikary, DFO of the Dhansiri division, Dr. Kushal reached the elephant enclosed in a muddy pit. Borrowing a gamosa from a Bodo man, the doctor eased himself into the pit and then bored two sturdy poles into the ground to hem in the tusker. While loud trumpets from his herd members nearby made him join them, the doctor started to chant prayers aloud, even as he began his work. At least 25 liters of intravenous fluid-and life-saving drugs were transfused into the animal. The elephant was lifted onto solid ground by the front arm of the JCB, where both the doctor and the DFO were seated. The shivering pachyderm suddenly stood up and lay himself on a patch of ground. The doctor could see gratitude in the eyes of the animal.
As a member of the All-India Circus Elephant Committee, Dr. Kushal and other experts were sent to monitor six circus elephants in a Gujarat city. One elephant was more than excited. As the doctor and his aide, Hiten Baishya spoke in Assamese, the elephant in an unusual show of love, curled his trunk around the doctor’s. Astonished, he called for the official papers, and discovered that the elephant, called Lakhimai, belonged to the Hussain family of Tezpur. Dr. Kushal then looked for the scar from the operation he performed on Lakhimai that removed her torment. Caressing the scar on Lakhimai, the doctor thought destiny indeed works in mysterious ways.

Faced with full-blown musth, Bhoglal had a slender body. Camouflaged military-style, 30 meters away in the Jorabat area in Meghalaya, Dr. Kushal shot at Bhoglal with his tranquillizer gun. Dr. Bhubaneswar Kakati, however, stepped on a dry leaf, and all hell broke loose. In panic, they found that the tusker was virtually galloping towards them. The first few moments of a dart shot makes an animal highly dangerous when not even bullets can stop them. They saved their lives by a hair’s breath that day.

The doctor has chemically immobilized and disciplined 139 rogue and musth elephants, including 64 wild elephants for treatment, rehabilitation, translocation and domestication in the North-East. Dr. Kushal has also been treating a large number of elephants annually beyond the call of his duty.

Immobilizing at least 36 rhinos, Dr. Kushal has also treated or translocated leopards, tigers, buffaloes, primates, antelopes and birds in the Assam State Zoo, wildlife sanctuaries in the State, including national parks of West Bengal, Assam and Nepal. He has been on visits to several nations such as Denmark, Nepal, Singapore and the U.S.A. in pursuit of academic excellence. Dr. Kushal has presented numerous academic articles and research papers in many other nations. His never-ending CV has to be seen to be believed.

With several books to Dr. Kushal’s credit, the doctor says that the Rs. 400-crore LoC scandal that rocked the State in the 1980s-’90s has proved to be a bane for the veterinary profession, as well as students.

Haunted by the LoC scandal, the profession lost its momentum, says Dr. Kushal. Successive governments have displayed a lack of interest, failing in producing leaders and workers. In the absence of a brilliant leadership to inspire and guide students, sycophancy and mediocrity have become the hallmark of the profession today – with visible absence of vision, motivation and direction, Dr. Kushal remarks.

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