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Death of a Gentle Giant


Rajajji National Park
10 January 2011

Dear All,

We are writing with a heavy heart to announce the passing away of Rajaji’s most famous resident Tipu, a wild elephant many of you have had the chance to see in our company or hear the various stories about his escapades. He was a much loved elephant who lived to a ripe old age of over 65 years and was an integral part of our lives for the last 16 years. After being photographed in 1992, He was radio collared in 1996 and named after Tipu Sultan, due to his refusal to quietly accept that parts of his home had been taken over by humans. He just considered sugar cane and paddy grown by the farmers within his home range as just another tasty grassland. What made him stand out among the hundreds of crop raiding elephants across Asia were his majestic bearing, absolute fearlessness and gentle temperament. Many a times he was found, without a rumble of irritation or fear, resting 20 metres from old feeble women collecting firewood or fodder for their cattle. He was not known to charge in fear or in anger and would only, at the most extreme provocation, would walk a few threatening steps towards the source of noise. To our knowledge, he has never killed anyone despite being a chronic crop raider and living in forests filled with humans. At his peak fitness, irrespective of whether he was in musth or not, other big bulls would give him a wide berth when he was courting a female or just feeding. He was one of the two or three bulls, who regularly crossed the Chilla-Motichur corridor across the Ganges, thus keeping elephants on both sides a single population. 

 While this is a loss, it is also a time to reflect and celebrate Tipu's well lived life. No other wild tusker, known to researchers or park managers, in Asia has had the fortune of living so long -  especially a bull who loved to check people's houses for food. He lived life absolutely on his own terms, roamed and rested where he pleased without fear or favour. He led a full life covering a range of nearly 800 sq km, may be mating with several females and fathering several young elephants in Rajaji NP, was not maimed either by the train or by a truck (although he crossed the road and the rail way track numerous times) and was not felled by a poacher's bullet. Blind in one eye (we detected this in 2009), he was still a romeo in full musth courting a female herd as seen in pictures taken five days ago.

Though he died falling down from the Motichur railway bridge, it was the result of injuries sustained in a musth fuelled fight over females with a much younger and fitter bull. We are thankful for the efforts of the officers & staff of Uttarakhand Forest Department – starting from the PCCF Wildlife, Shri S.K. Chandola and Director, Rajaji NP, Shri S.S. Rasaily and all his staff, dedicated vets such as Drs. Satya Priya Gautam Bhalla and Negi, Ramsaran of the elephant monitoring project and wildlife lovers like Rajeev Mehta who did their best to ease his suffering and to treat his wounds. We shall be grateful if a fitting memorial is erected for him in Motichur by the Uttarakhand Forest Department so his memory lives on long after we are all gone.  We are sure that his genes are well represented among the many elephants he has fathered in his long and distinguished life. But above all, to us, he was simply Tipu, a venerable old acquaintance who allowed us a treasured glimpse into his rich life. Tipu and Rajaji are synonymous. For us, Rajaji simply will never be the same place without our gentle giant's soft footsteps treading on it.


Christy and Bivash

Bivash Pandav, Ph.D.
Department of Endangered Species Management
Wildlife Institute of India

A. Christy Williams Ph.D,
WWF Asian Elephant and Rhino Program




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