Under the elephant - Vinod Kantamneni
One more day to go for the line transacts to finish for the year and I would be at ease, no more calling strangers and asking details for insurance, no more telling first time volunteers why wearing royal purple or princess pink in the field is a bad idea.
But sometimes things just don't go as planned a frantic call from the transect in charge, something had gone terribly wrong, a elephant had charged two transect volunteers, as we were talking he was rushing them to Mysore for treatment, as I noted down the details one name struck me, it was Deep Shubra Biswas.
Deep had applied for a internship, I thought it was highly unlikely he would to actually take up the internship as he was from W.Bengal. But he showed up at our office one day with his father in tow, We had no other choice than to interview him and boy did he blow us away, he had come totally prepared he knew about line transect sampling, he knew his natural history, he even came fully dressed in camouflage clothing, we sent him to the field immediately and he had done a very good job, getting good feedback from even hard to please research assistants, now this , how was I going to tell the nice gentleman father of his that his only son is injured in by a elephant
A urgent meeting was called with senior staff and we waited anxiously for the In charge Biddapa to call, than good news Deep was fine with just a few scratches, We signed in relief as Broken ribs which we thought his transect partner had suffered turned out to be bruised ribs, nothing a nice ointment and few days for rest wouldn't cure.
The transects were wrapped up on schedule the next day and Deep came back to the office to complete his internship, then we heard his account of the attack.
On the fateful day Deep and his partner were assigned line no 23 for the evening walk, I had walked this particular line some days earlier, it was close to the camp, there was no need for someone to drop or pick you up from the start point due to its proximity.
Well into the final segment they heard twigs snapping and before they realised what was happening a elephant broke cover and charged at them, both ran but Deep stumbled and fell after a few metres, he quickly turned onto his back waiting for death but miraculously the elephant passed over him without touching him chasing his screaming running partner, he caught only glimpses of what happened next which was of the elephant catching up and goring the other guy and leaving
When he recovered from the shock he walked up to what he definitely thought would be mangled remains of his partner but luckily the other guy looked ok just a bit disheveled, the other guy was also surprised to see Deep because while he ran he had turned and caught a glimpse of Deep falling and being run over by the elephant, They walked back to the camp fully expecting another attack from the elephant anytime
Deep’s sketch of under the elephant
Each volunteer and research assistant fully knows the risks of walking lines, once in a while a elephant chases you, a tiger mock charges or unglamorous as it may seem you may slip and fall in a ditch, get marooned due to bad weather or just plain loose your way, but walking a line is the closest we can ever be with nature. Statistically speaking walking, a line is safer than crossing a busy city street.