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The Hindu
The Hindu
Swathi Vadlamudi

From the wild to captivity & roguery: journey of Vijay, the tusker

Vijay, the lone tusker at Nehru Zoological Park, which attacked and killed an animal keeper on Saturday, was captured from Tirupati in 1994.

Thirteen years old then, he, along with another adult male, later named Jay, was separated from a herd in Tamil Nadu, and entered Andhra Pradesh via Kuppam.

When they started raiding crops, and straying into the route of devotees on their foot to Tirumala, the forest authorities decided to capture them.

“I was in the team that had captured the animals. We used Kumki elephants brought down from Kozhikamuthi Topslip Elephant Camp in Tamil Nadu to divert the tuskers, so that they could be darted without trouble,” recalled M. Navin Kumar, who retired as deputy director (veterinary) from the zoo.

The pachyderms were taken in by the Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park in Tirupati and named Jay and Vijay, after the names of the then Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, J. Jayalalithaa and K. Vijayabhaskar Reddy, respectively.

While Jay was trained as a Kumki in Tirupati, Vijay was injured during a training at the zoo, and had to be shifted to the Nehru Zoological Park in 1996.

“He had a broken tusk, and I remember treating the infection for an entire year. He was not a troublemaker then,” Dr. Navin Kumar said.

He eventually became a rogue animal reportedly owing to lack of training facilities in the zoo. In 2011, he had attacked a mahout and severely injured him. This incident was followed by several others though with less severity, until the latest attack that killed the hapless animal keeper.

According to sources, Vijay was mostly kept chained, and had to be tranquilised over 25 times during the last two decades, as he would become aggressive whenever in Musth.

“In the wild, when a tusker is in Musth, he leaves the herd with a female in heat and returns to the herd after mating period. In captivity, the animal should have trained mahouts to control it, which the zoo lacks,” Dr. Navin Kumar added.

Elephants have remarkable memory, and frequent change of handlers affects their behaviour, he said. Scarcity of tranquilising drugs in the zoo too, aggravates the situation.

Zoo authorities have sought permission from the director of Zoo Parks to immediately shift Vijay to a training camp in Karnataka, in view of the latest instance of aggression.

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