The driver couldn’t believe what he was seeing when the thief approached the delivery vehicle. Not only did the miscreant cause the truck to come to a halt, but they casually reached inside and started munching on the cargo. The man behind the wheel knew that he needed to do something, but what could possibly deter the bold bandit?
The driver in question was responsible for a truck delivery of potatoes in India, his home country. As a matter of fact, in 2016 India had the second biggest labor force in the world. But it’s not just Indian citizens who benefit from the hard work of its 1.3 billion population.
India’s primary agricultural products are also exported to other countries. And among the nation’s huge harvests are potatoes. Indeed, India is now the world’s second largest potato-producing country. During the 2015-16 crop cycle, India harvested more than 43 million tons of potatoes. And in 2016 the nation exported potatoes worth $60.3 million.
But as intense as the agricultural industry may be in India, the delivery drivers don’t have it easy either. To begin with, a lot of people on Indian highways have a loose concept of safety. And there are areas of the country where the roads themselves are overgrown or damaged – and full of potholes.
However, it was another hazard entirely that had people talking in the middle of 2017. On August 1, a video was uploaded to YouTube that showed how a potato truck got waylaid by a massively unlikely highway robber. Indeed, the culprit managed to bring the tater truck to a complete standstill.
Actually, the thief is just another example of something that can go wrong on the roads of India. This particular incident occurred in West Bengal in the east of the country, and it amazed startled onlookers. In fact, one of them filmed the event on their cell phone as the bandit emerged from the cover of the Garhbeta Forest.
The unlikely highwayman was actually a wild elephant, who saw the potato delivery truck as an easy target. And, judging by the footage, the pachyderm was right. People watched, open-mouthed, as the elephant casually walked over to the truck and pulled the vehicle’s tarpaulin off with his trunk.
However, the elephant wasn’t just content with investigating the vehicle’s contents – the massive mammal treated the cargo like an all-you-can-eat buffet. But as the animal enjoyed its starchy snack, the video showed that he was disrupting traffic at the same time.
As a result of the elephant impasse, the motorists on that stretch of road became impatient and decided to try and move the freeloading animal. Some of the drivers shouted at the pachyderm, hoping the loud noises would scare it off. Others tried a more radical and violent approach to shift the potato thief.
While some of the crowd screamed at the elephant, others threw firecrackers at its feet. Although the pyrotechnics seemed to be harmless, they made a loud noise and created a surprising amount of smoke. Unfortunately, the mammoth mammal was undeterred by the display and more interested in his moveable feast.
Despite the onlookers’ best efforts, the elephant was determined to continue disproving the old adage about there being no such thing as a free lunch. Fortunately, sources report that once the potato pincher had snaffled a few root vegetables, he went on his way. At last, the Bengali motorists were free to continue on their journey too.
However, once the clip of the incident had been uploaded to YouTube, social media users responded very differently to the video. Some viewers found the event endearing, and one commenter said, “Oh, bless him. The poor thing can’t eat them all in one sitting… or can he?” Another remarked, “[That’s the] cutest thief I have seen so far.”
Nevertheless, other watchers were not so entertained by the footage of the elephant’s antics. One complaining contributor said it “would’ve been easier [to] just give him a few potatoes.” And of course, there were some commenters who pointed out that the use of firecrackers was cruel. However, some social media users were able to put their finger on the real hot-button issue.
The sad fact is that incidents like the one recorded on the YouTube video are becoming increasingly common on the Asian continent. Elephant behavior such as this is the result of habitat loss, which is a growing problem. It frequently results in human-elephant conflict as the pachyderms forage further for food. Oftentimes, these clashes have far worse outcomes than a few stolen potatoes and a traffic tailback.
As the boundaries between elephant habitats and human populations become ever smaller, the massive mammals need to look wider to satisfy their huge appetites. Unfortunately, the closest and most convenient sources of food for the elephants these days are usually farm crops. The results of this situation can prove deadly for both man and beast.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) explains on its website that elephant-human territorial conflict is the single largest threat to the lives of the pachyderms today. Amazingly, the situation even eclipses previous problems such as the black-market demand for ivory. And it is all because humans and elephants are – sometimes literally – fighting over food sources.
Of course, no-one can be the winner when things turn nasty, and both sides suffer some serious casualties. “When elephants and humans interact, there is conflict from crop raiding,” the WWF site states. “Elephants cause damage amounting from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.”
But there is much more than just property damage to worry about, as the WWF organization highlights. Its website carries on, “Every year, 100 humans (in some years it may be 300 people) are killed during crop raiding in India… Such encounters foster resentment against the elephants amongst the human population.”
But this outcome is a deadly result for the elephant population too. According to the WWF, “This can result in elephants being viewed as a nuisance and killed.” According to the organization’s figures, anywhere from 40 to 50 elephants are killed every year in these clashes with humankind.
It is definitely a serious dilemma that needs addressing, for the sake of human and elephant co-habitation. Ultimately, we need to start taking better care of not only our planet, but also each other – and that includes our non-human friends – before the damage becomes irreversible.