Villagers give way to elephant with a crush

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AN INDIAN man was trampled to death trying to break up a love affair between a tame elephant and her wild 8,000lb suitor from the jungles of south Bihar.

The irresistible force of love between elephants is something the villagers of Gumla, northern India, wish they had avoided. It is rare for wild elephants to develop crushes on domesticated pachyderms. Usually, they do not give a hoot. But when a bull elephant passing through the jungle near Gumla earlier this month happened to spy an attractive female of the species named Madhubala, it was, well, love at first sight.

Even though Madhubala was chained to a tree, the bull elephant refused to leave. At first the villagers tried to lure away the heavyweight stranger with a banana bribe. It was not food the elephant had on his mind, but his shackled sweetheart. Angry and scared, the villagers and police began tossing firecrackers and flaming sticks at the wild male. As the furious elephant charged back to the jungle, it crushed a forest ranger underfoot, killing him, according to local press reports.

The bull elephant's retreat was only tactical. The lovesick male sneaked back later that night and freed Madhubala by smashing her chains. The two elephant lovers eloped. Madhubala's keeper, Mahedi Hussain, tracked her down in the jungle after a week and brought her back to the village. The she-elephant, alas, remained lovelorn. She even turned up her trunk at a bunch of bananas, her favourite food. Finally, her plaintive trumpet calls were answered.

The avenging lover swept down on the village last Friday like an army tank, flattening huts and scattering people into the forest. As the United News of India reported: The elephant 'returned to Gumla in a rage, demolishing walls and anything that stood between him and Madhubala. The act, many said, would have done credit to any film hero who had been denied his love.'

With Madhubala loose again, the reunited elephant pair slipped off into the dense trees. This time, the elephant-keeper is in no hurry to bring her - and her trouble-making boyfriend - back again.