‘Rowdy Ranga’: An Elephant Made Outlaw and Killed by Urbanisation
The 9-foot-tall, aged tusker was killed by a private bus in Nagarahole national park after a life of rebellion.
The capture order from the government to the forest department was at least two days old by then. The search parties had been combing the forest in Magadi, where he was last spotted, for more than two days.
Finally, at 2:30pm on 25 December 2016, more than 70 forest department officials and five elephants surrounded him near Bhantarakuppe forest.
The wild run of 45-year-old ‘Rowdy Ranga’ had ended. For decades, he and his gang of elephants had became the symbol of man-animal conflict. Cornered by four elephants, Ranga was tranquilised by the forest department, in the wake of crop-raiding incidents.
This was two years before his death in captivity.
For decades before his capture, Ranga was the leader of an 11-member tusker gang that raided villages in and around Bengaluru. At least 25 humans were allegedly killed by Ranga.
But for wildlife activists, Ranga wasn’t violent. He was merely reacting to the loss of his home, which had been gradually taken over by the growing city. Bannerghatta, Ranga’s original home, has apartments inches away from the forest and the traditional corridors, passed on by his ancestors, were cut through by highways.
Eventually, the urbanisation that made him an outlaw killed him as well. Two years after his capture, Ranga was killed by a speeding private bus on a highway near Nagarhole reserve forest on Monday, 9 October, while in the custody of the forest department.
The Infamous Gang of 11
A gang of 11-male tuskers was something unusual. Tuskers don’t stay together. But this gang, led by 9-foot-tall Ranga, found strength in unity. Moving in a group, they raided crops around Bengaluru, Savandurga, Magadi, Ramnagar, Tavrekere, Nelamangala and Kagalipura areas.
For their fearless approach of cities and towns, these tuskers have been called ‘the urban elephants’ and ‘the rogues of Bannerghatta’.
“People called them rogue elephants of Bannerghatta because we made them go rogue by bursting crackers, firing gun shots at them,” said Panish Bharadwaj, Chief Naturalist at Bagh Villas, Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, who as a student had followed Ranga.
Ranga always had his trusted lieutenant Sidda around, remembered Rahul Aardhya, a naturalist, who tracked Ranga and his gang for more than three years.
“These two were inseparable, even though Ranga used to go on his solo trips occasionally. Then there were others. Not all were named, but there was PT (the perfect tusk), junior PT, and one more whom we called stalker, because while we were stalking the gang, he used to stay behind and stalk us. For others we had given numbers,” he said.
The Exploits of the Ranga Gang
They were a wild bunch. For close to two decades, they raided the fields at will. As their traditional corridors were encroached upon by villages, they made their way through them, this often resulted in conflicts.
According to Karnataka forest department, before his capture, the damage caused by his gang was estimated to be close to Rs 1 crore per year.
The gang had turned Bannerghatta National Park into its own breeding ground. The national park authorities used to allow their captured elephants to roam freely in Bannerghatta forest, and the gang used to enter the forest to mate with them.
“The anger against Ranga, among villagers, was evident on his scar-filled face”, said Nakul M Dev, a wildlife activist.
“There were several scars and even a part of the ear had been chipped because of the pellets fired at him by the villagers. And he was a tough opponent, he often stood his ground even though crackers were thrown at him,” said Dev.
The Loss of a Friend and the Capture
The members of the gang of 11 were either killed or died, or had been captured over the years. Among the five that died was Ranga’s close friend Sidda. In October 2016, two months before Ranga’s capture, an injured Sidda was found lying near Manchinabele dam on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
Sidda had broken his right front leg. He was crippled while escaping an attack from a group of villagers, and he spent close to 40 days in water before the forest department decided to provide him medical treatment. But on 9 December, he succumbed to his injuries.
Hours after Sidda’s death, Ranga mowed down one person in another part of the forest. Many believe it wasn’t mere coincidence. Days after Sidda’s death, even Ranga was captured and sent to Bannerghatta National Park. To be tamed.
A Life in Chains
After his capture, Ranga was sent to Bannerghatta National Park, where he was to be tamed and used for domestic chores. “He was kept in kraal, (a wooden enclosure for captured animals) for close to two months,” said D Manjunath, a forest department official, who led the team that captured Ranga. “Mahouts were brought to tame him and once he had relaxed, he was taken to Matthigodu Elephant Camp,” he said.
Over the years, he was trained to conduct forest patrols and even trained for Dasara celebrations.
Ranga’s capture also resulted in an online campaign. Led by a medical student Rakshith Gowda, wildlife activists demanded his release. During one of the interviews Gowda said: “Ranga’s walk made it evident that the spirit of a wild animal had been broken.”
But the campaign couldn’t ensure his release.
Ranga became violent because his home was occupied by us to build our towns and cities. We made him an outlaw, and he was just defending the encroachment of his home.
At 3:30 am on Monday, years after rapid urbanisation of his home made him an outlaw, he was killed by a speeding private bus on the Virajpet-Bengaluru road, near the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve.
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