Elephant Killing Spree in Rishikesh, India

Elephant Killing Spree in Rishikesh


Along the road from Hardiwar to Rishikesh, I passed a street sign that kindly reminded drivers that elephants here have the right of way. I’ll admit to being rather charmed by this — coming from a land of somewhat-less exotic deer-crossing signs, the thought of seeing a wild elephant strolling along the highway was captivating. What I didn’t realize, however, was that elephants here take their rights very seriously — they’ve killed three people in the last week.

Like a CIA agent gone bad, at least one of the tuskers, as they’re called here, has gone rogue and is attacking cars with increasing regularity. Last week, it stopped and battered a small car carrying a young couple and their 85-year-old mother. The couple leaped from the car and ran, leaving their mother behind. The tusker pulled her out of the car with its trunk and crushed her to death.

Now, I don’t want to make light of this tragedy but I have to admit that if I was 85 and facing the end of my days, being killed by an elephant sounds like a pretty cool way to go. It beats falling down the stairs, I think.

Three days ago, the enraged pachyderm struck again at sunset, damaging a scooter, motorcycle and a small car before focusing its fury on a jeep packed with a dozen people. As everyone scrambled to escape, the elephant scooped up two unlucky Rishikesh natives in its trunk and killed them both. Three people dead in one week…

As everyone scrambled to escape, the elephant scooped up two unlucky Rishikesh natives in its trunk and killed them both. Three people dead in one week…

Police and Forestry officials have requested that the state’s Chief Wildlife Warden declare the elephant a “killer” and give them permission to put the animal down. No one here seems to want to kill an elephant, but there really aren’t many other options. In the meantime, they’re closing the road at night and warning travelers to keep their distance.

No one knows why this particular animal has become so violent. Rajendra Aggarval, the head of the Wildlife Protection Society of India said that elephants are peaceful creatures and only “attack commuters and others when provoked by teasing or unnecessary blaring of horns”. Indian drivers are some of the most horn-happy people I’ve ever run across — they work that button like it’s a bongo drum.

Back home, the odds of being killed by an elephant are probably similar to the chances of being struck by lightning while buying a winning lottery ticket on Friday the 13th, but here it’s a real –though hopefully still remote– possibility. I leave for Nainital by bus tomorrow and will have to take an early-morning taxi from Rishikesh back to the Hardiwar bus station, traveling through the area where the attacks have occurred.

I just hope my driver goes easy on the horn.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick December 20, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Dude I just died laughing. “they work that button like it’s a bongo drum.” Keep em coming. :)


wes December 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Thanks, man. It’s true — they’re some horn-crazy people. Only place I’ve been that comes close is Vietnam…


Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World December 20, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Aaaw, poor elephant. Like the article said, they don’t usually just go around attacking people so there must be something that’s bothering him quite a bit.

I feel bad for the victims too… what a way to die.


wes December 20, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Yeah, it’s a tragedy however you look at it. It’s a lose-lose situation.


wes December 20, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Update: I couldn’t find a cheap room in Nainital, so I’m heading to Varanasi next. But I still have to run the elephant gauntlet to get to the train station…


ayngelina December 20, 2010 at 9:34 pm

What a bizarre way to die. Have a safe journey and stay away from those dangerous animals!


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:20 am

Thanks! I’ll do my best :)


Michael Hodson December 20, 2010 at 9:43 pm

how does Wes keep getting himself in all these interesting situations??!


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

I’m a freak magnet. If there’s a crazy person in town, I’ll not only meet him but will probably end up having dinner with him. I don’t know how it happens…


Lily December 20, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Safe passage Wes. Maybe you can avoid death by not stopping your car near the angry looking one with steam coming out of its ears, and whatever you do, dont look ’em in the eye…


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:26 am

Thanks, Lily. I think what happens is that traffic piles up as everyone slows to see the elephants. Then the rogue comes charging in and people can’t get away. It’s a pachyderm ambush…


Tom December 21, 2010 at 1:11 am

Any chance he’s gotten into a farmer’s homemade brew. I hear elephants have quite a taste for it and are mean drunks.


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:27 am

A drunk elephant is something I’d rather not see…


Christy December 21, 2010 at 2:26 am

Just recently discovered your blog and love reading these great stories! I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing Indian traffic and their immense love of horns last year during a short trip, and this brought it all back… :) Looking forward to reading more of your adventures.


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:29 am

Welcome, Christy and thanks! I’ve been thinking I should record twenty minutes of car horns and make an MP3 — call it “The Sounds of India” :)


Andi December 21, 2010 at 2:40 am

It almost doesn’t seem real! A rouge elephant!!! I feel bad for the elephant, I wish they could trap it and let go in the wild…


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:30 am

I agree, it’s a sad situation. Trapping is probably out of the question, as is transport. And I don’t think there’s any wild habitat that would be free of people. It’s a real shame.


Matt | YearAroundTheWorld December 21, 2010 at 7:55 am

If you do get attacked, make sure to snap a few photos before it gets you, so the rest of us can re-live the full experience! :-)


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:31 am

I’ll do my best, Matt :) Maybe shoot some video with narration: “And here comes the eleph…. ARRRRRGHHH!”


Amanda December 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

Yikes! That’s some pretty scary stuff! But you’re right – if I had to pick a random way to go when I’m old, death by elephant certainly would be good to write about in a obituary.

But, seriously… I hope this one doesn’t hurt anybody else.


Marvin Lewis December 21, 2010 at 9:57 am

A cool way to go in deed. If nothing else at every family gathering from now on would have a good toast to the elephant victim.


wes December 21, 2010 at 10:32 am

Just think of the respect you’d get in the afterlife: “So, how’d you die?” “Killed by an elephant. You?” “Ummm… hit by a bus…”


Pirate63 December 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Wes you crack me up with some of these stories,keep ’em coming,and if I don’t get the chance before Xmas ,have a great one and keep safe.


wes December 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Thanks! You too!


Priyank January 1, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Hi Wes! Humans are reclaiming more and more forest land for agriculture. We drive through a forest and have the nerve of calling an elephant a killer? Its a sorry state.

Btw, after moving to Canada, a friend told me that his car’s horn wasn’t working for over a year. I asked him, quite innocently, “but then, how do you drive?” ;-)


wes January 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

Agreed. Habitat destruction is the real problem and that’s true the world over.

Love the horn comment! Italians can’t talk without their hands and Indians can’t drive without a horn ;)


Wrabbit007 August 2, 2011 at 11:36 am

I know this post is older, but did you ever hear what happened with this situation? I hope the elephant got over its killing frenzy and melted back into the wilderness… I realize it was a “killer elephant” but I still hope it got away safely. I’m pro-elephant (I guess, unless one is squeezing me to death with its trunk.)