Arikkomban’s translocation: TN farmers now fret over rice-loving tusker

Residents of Chinnakanal in Kerala are heaving a sigh of relief after the departure of Arikkomban. But, the border towns of Tamil Nadu are now worried about what havoc the tusker or 'Arisi Komban' can cause

Arikkomban, wild tusker
Arikkomban is roaming around the Meghamalai forest region, says Tamil Nadu forest officials. Pic: Arikkomban being captured at Chinnakanal seen here along with a kumki elephant

It was a two-day long mission on April 28 and 29 for special task force led by Dr Arun Zachariah to tranquilise, radio collar and translocate Arikkomban, the rice-loving tusker of Chinnakanal–Santhanpara belt to the deep forest area of Mangaladevi in the Periyar Tiger reserve. The mission which was televised seamlessly by Malayalam television, ended successfully when the jumbo was released into the depth of the woods by the evening of April 29.

The animal took his time to move after being set free inside the forest before making his way towards the Tamil Nadu border in the east. On the first day, when the animal was moving towards Meghamalai in Tamil Nadu, the signals were properly received by the Kerala forest department. The signals abruptly stopped working on day two, leaving the authorities in the dark.

According to a forest official, the signal transmission may have been interrupted for a while by the cloud cover, but it was restored after a day.

The first two days were uneventful, but on the beginning of the third day, reports of sightings of Arikkomban from the border towns of Kerala and Tamil Nadu started surfacing on many video-sharing networks. The visuals were of an elephant with a radio collar.

On May 4, Arikkomban paid a visit to the labour encampments of Iravangalar tea estate. According to Karuppusami, a local estate worker the animal came literally knocking on his door, on the night of May 3.

Also read: Arikomban, Kerala’s rice-loving jumbo walks home, may be brought back to Munnar

“It was trying to push the door open,” Karuppusami told The Federal. “When I had a look, the trunk was inside the house and as if it was searching for something. When we started shouting from inside, the animal retreated,” he added.

His daughter however got a glimpse of the radio collar on his neck.

The Tamil Nadu forest officials also corroborate the claims of the family, who also assert that it is possible that the jumbo travelled there in search of his favourite food. While taking a tour through the Cumbom-Meghamalai route, The Federal met several villagers who had only heard stories about this peculiar animal that has many fans associations in Kerala. Now the Tamil villagers also have started to refer him as Arisi Komban, the Tamil version of his monicker.

“I had been watching the capture drama in Kerala on You Tube, and I definitely would like to see him once,” said Veera Raj, a local coconut vendor on the highway. Many of the Keralaites say he is harmless, then why is the government spending so much money to translocate him? asks Raja.

But, the estate labourers living near the Ervangalar dam, are anxious about possible raids by the animal.

On May 4, Arikkomban paid a visit to the labour encampments of Iravangalar tea estate.

Antony Dasan of Meghamalai said, “Elephants used to come here to the reservoir to drink water. However, they caused little harm and have never attacked people before. But Arisi Komban’s stories are unique. For food, he consumes rice and destroys stores and homes. The authorities must take all possible measures to stop him from coming here.”

Eravangalar of Theni district in Tamil Nadu and Chinnakanal of Idukki district in Kerala have nearly identical topographies, with tea estates and labourer’s encampments serving as the primary landmarks. The elephant must have been feeling at home here, said forest officials.

Also read: Kerala’s rogue elephant Arikomban tranquilised; shifted to Periyar Tiger Reserve

S Anand, Deputy Director, Meghamalai division Tamil Nadu Forest department told The Federal, “The animal is roaming around the Meghamalai forest region. We had a couple of sightings by our own officers and another three or four reported by the local people as well. On the night of May 7, it stopped a TN state transport bus, but luckily it was a mock attack and no harm was done, apart from scaring the passengers and crew of the bus.”

“We have been requesting the tourists to avoid visiting Meghamalai for some days as we cannot predict the animal’s movements. We have put special teams on the job to monitor it 24×7 besides the GPS monitoring. We are working in tandem with the Kerala forest department, as they have provided us with a receiver of the radio collar that the jumbo is wearing. As of now, everything is under control, but we should be alert,” added the officer.

All quiet at Chinnakanal

On the other hand, residents of Chinnakanal are heaving a sigh of relief after the departure of Arikkomban. Though a bunch of animal lovers are mourning the fact that they cannot see their beloved tusker anymore, the local farmers feel that they can sleep well after a long time.

“Santhanpara-Chinnakanal panchayats have become safe and calm after April 29,” says Durairaj a local farmer who had been in the forefront of the protests against the tusker’s antics.

“Chakkakkomban and Murivaalan also seem to have retreated after Arikkomban’s departure. Though a herd led by a female elephant with three calves raided a shed near Singukandam the other day, they did not cause any major damage. But, we are not hundred per cent sure Arikkomban will not come back,” said Durairaj doubtfully.

Translocated elephants can return

According to Dr Arun Zachariah, chief veterinary surgeon of Kerala forest department, it is not impossible for translocated elephants to return. There are instances when the animals travelling more than 100 kilometres return to their home turf. It’s impossible to make a definitive statement about this animal. How the elephant adjusts to its new surroundings is the most crucial factor.

Arikkomban was released in an area where there is abundant food and water for elephants. However, there are several other elephants in the area. So, it’s a watch and wait situation for both the state forest departments.

The ‘Arikkomban fans’ are waiting for such a return. More than fifty fan pages have already been set up for the tusker on Facebook only. Not only the animal lovers and environmentalists, but the fan base of the elephant includes people from different walks of the life, including college professors, who teach literature to fisherfolks of the costal villages. The interesting fact is that most of these elephant fans have become hardened foes of the department of forests and government of Kerala.

Many legends on Arikkomban have already started doing the rounds in Kerala with people putting up huge hoardings and posters hailing the tusker. Fans have pictured him in a variety of roles, from a sentimental hero who mourns the loss of his mother to an action hero, who keeps intruders at bay to preserve the peace in the environment.

‘Arikkomban’, a movie has already been announced by director Sajid Yahiya for which production will soon get underway. On a lighter note, actor Tovino Thomas responded that he was growing tusks for the role when asked if he would be in the movie.