- Raju Jhallu Prassad
On World Elephant Day 2080, the Terai region of Nepal is abuzz with activities dedicated to the conservation of elephants. Various reserves and protected areas are hosting events that encompass feeding elephants with fruits, tree planting, observing their behavior, discussing their habitats, and devising future conservation strategies.
In this context, we delve into the intriguing tale of ‘Raja Gaj,’ the world’s largest Asian elephant, a once-revered symbol in Nepal. This majestic creature vanished from its southwestern Nepalese habitat in December 2007, never to be seen again. At the time of its disappearance, Raja Gaj was believed to be around 70 years old.
Raja Gaj first made its mark in Bardiya National Park, drawing the admiration of the region and the nation. Its initial sighting in 1992 marked the beginning of its legacy, and it continued to captivate hearts until the last sighting in 2007 in the village of Kailashi, where it stood an impressive 11 feet 3 inches tall, making it the tallest known Asian elephant at that time. No other elephant in Bardiya National Park has been observed with tusks larger than Raja Gaj’s.
Back in 1992, the intrepid British explorer Sir John Blashford-Snell ventured through the remote Bardia region, spurred by reports of “giant elephants.” His search led to the sighting and photographing of two immense bull elephants, living up to their colossal reputation. Their footprints measured a staggering 22.5 inches across, and their shoulder height reached an astounding 11 feet 3 inches, surpassing the size of the largest-ever recorded Asian elephant specimen.
The circumstances surrounding Raja Gaj’s demise remain shrouded in uncertainty. Official records suggest it met its end in an unfortunate train accident in India, but this remains unconfirmed. Despite the passage of years, the quest to find historical elephants that bring honor to the country, like Raja Gaj, has been unsuccessful. There have been allegations against local non-governmental organizations involved in elephant conservation, accusing them of ineffectiveness and financial mismanagement.
In the wake of Raja Gaj’s loss, concerned locals, particularly those passionate about conservation, have taken action. The Anti-Poaching Youth Movement, driven by the legacy of Raja Gaj, erected a monumental pillar known as ‘KHAMARI.’ This impressive memorial, named “Raja Gaj Stambha,” was meticulously crafted from a single piece of wood over a year, ensuring that Raja Gaj’s name endures.
Bardiya isn’t merely renowned for its rare one-horned rhinos; it is a crucial haven for the world’s largest Asian elephants. Ramesh Thapa, the former warden of the national park, managed to capture the last known photograph of Raja Gaj near the Gholti River, west of Gandha Machan, during the Falgun of the year 2063 B.S. By this time, Raja Gaj was over 70 years old.
In the Himalayan nation, an endangered species, there exist approximately 250 Asian elephants, with around 100 of them domesticated and employed for activities such as elephant polo and safaris in national parks.