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Conflict turns jumbo into 'maneater'

The Times of India, New Delhi, 21st July, 2014

KOLKATA: It was a hot afternoon in Kurseong's Tukra Basti on June 23, 2002. The sun was beating down on Napania forest, when an elephant charged out, pulverizing everything that came in its way. What happened next is beyond imagination and still seared in the minds of those who witnessed it. After demolishing several huts, the elephant rushed at a 60-year-old villager. It lifted the old man with its trunk, ran amok for about 30 metres swinging him around like a puppet, threw him on the ground and then pounded him to pulp. Then, it apparently ate the man's flesh.

As forest guards and police scampered for cover, utterly helpless before the jumbo's rage, it went on a killing spree, crushing six more persons "with more power than needed to kill a human" in an hour. "The elephant used its full strength to grind the victims into paste in almost all cases," recalls head of forest force N C Bahuguna in his book 'The Man Eating Elephant', released recently by the forest department.

Bahuguna, as North Bengal's chief conservator of forests in 2008, collected witness accounts of the horrifying incident and turned it into a book with inputs gathered from his experience on habitat loss and the consequent man-elephant conflict. He writes that the elephant, a female, killed 13 people, including two in Nepal's Bamandangi village in two days and consumed human flesh to avenge the death of its calf that was shot dead in front of its eyes by some villagers.