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Thread: Birder killed by elephant in NE India

  1. #1
    Senior Member forktail's Avatar
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    Dec 2007

    Default Birder killed by elephant in NE India


    A birder has been tragically killed by an elephant while in Panbari forest reserve in the Kaziranga area. Lots of us have 'elephant stories' but this is a timely reminder to all travelling birders how dangerous and unpredictable some of these beautiful places and creatures can be. The birder who died was with a good friend of mine who I birded the same place with in 2007. My friend is a savvy guy and knows the risks but it seems the chap with them didn't retreat with the rest but rather stayed to take photographs of the animal and died as it charged. Elephants can be unpredictable and sometimes I think birders don't appreciate just how dangerous they can be.

    OBC John Peel Awesomeness
    The little things they make me so happy, all I want to do is live by the sea...

  2. #2
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Alta Floresta, Brazil


    Below is text from the Oriental Birding discussion group from Ramana Athreya, well worth reading for any birders headed to areas with elephants. Indeed the dangers are often underestimated by birders. Definitely go to these places (Panbari is wonderful), but do have a care. A tick or a photo is not worth a life.

    - Brad

    Subject: Elephants and Birdwatchers
    From: Ramana Athreya <ramana.athreya AT>
    Date: Fri, 17 Apr 2009 15:10:08 +0530


    Just returned from leading two tours to the Eaglenest area in
    Arunachal ... but this email is not about the huge bird list but about
    a more important issue:

    You may have already heard of the tragic death of a birdwatcher caused
    by an elephant in the Panbari range of Kaziranga. I had an opportunity
    to meet some of that unfortunate party after the incident. I am
    writing this email both as a tour leader and a birdwatcher:

    1. Many foreigners tend to be rather dismissive of the dangers posed
    by an elephant. Please realise that elephants and people live in close
    proximity in India and fight over the same resource (farmland, open
    spaces, forest produce). The large majority of elephants are likely to
    have been directly involved in at least one conflict situation with
    humans. Thus, though elephants tend to move away from an interaction
    in most situations, it is not safe to bet on it.

    2. Elephants can move very rapidly both in forests and over open
    ground - it is unlikely that a person can outpace an elephant in
    either terrain ... especially once panic sets in. Elephants can move
    incredibly silently and "disappear" behind even small bushes - a
    peaceful distant elephant can morph into a highly annoyed animal
    within trunk-shaking distance in next to no time. If you know of the
    presence of elephants in a forest keep a distance of at least 200m. An
    elephant can easily locate a group birders at a distance from the
    noise they make. On the other hand in dense forest by the time birders
    are (visually) aware of the presence of an elephant the distance is
    already too close for comfort.

    3. Please accept and abide by the advice of your tour leader or armed
    guard when they warn you against going into a particular area on
    account of elephants. The gun that the forest guard carries is only
    meant to scare an elephant away - it is not meant to stop it ... and a
    determined elephant will not be stopped/scared by a gun shot. In fact,
    in my opinion a gun is dangerous for the false sense of security it
    provides. The only safe procedure is to have an alert and experienced
    guide who can hear/identify the sounds of an elephant at a distance
    and lead you away to another place.

    I heard several versions of the tragedy and the apportioning of blame
    ... and god knows the truth of the matter. However, from my experience
    as a tour leader for the last 5 years I can say that tour groups in
    pursuit of a speciality species can be quite dismissive of the dangers
    of an elephant in a forest. I was taunted on several occasions during
    a tour just last month that "Indians are far too scared of elephants
    than they need be". A forest guard, for various
    socio-economic-cultural reasons, will only warn you of the danger - he
    wont drag you away ... and if unheeded he will, quite appropriately,
    spend the rest of his time figuring out how best to escape with his
    life from the disaster-in-the-making. Ultimately, the responsibility
    for the safety of the birding group lies with the tour leader and the
    birders themselves!

    Ramana Athreya
    Pune. India

  3. #3
    Member FayJ's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Isle of Wight, southern England


    Quote Originally Posted by forktail View Post
    A birder has been tragically killed by an elephant while in Panbari forest reserve in the Kaziranga area. The birder who died was with a good friend of mine who I birded the same place with in 2007.
    Sorry to hear that. Just goes to show how unpredictable wildlife can be.

  4. #4
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Kreis Recklinghausen


    Iíve just returned from the area and have heard various versions of the story.

    The Indian guide with the group said an early warning by the guard had not been heeded; after that the story is pretty much as it has come into the world.

    Panbari Forest may be off limits now (we stayed well clear, as the victim was a good friend of one of the group members ).

    A short report (with mention of the incident) of my trip is on Birdforum.

  5. #5
    Senior Member DDolan1075's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Houston, Texas


    Thanks for the reminder. I don't travel much to bird (yet). That being said you can find danger just about anywhere. I deal with poisonous snakes and sometimes alligators and wild pigs. The problem is you are looking up into the trees and not at the snake in the middle of the path. Good reason to bird with another set of eyes.
    Thanks for your help,


    DDolan New Birder

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