Arikomban, the rice-loving wild tusker, which was on a rampage in Kerala’s Idukki, was on Saturday (April 29) tranquilised by forest authorities, ending months of confusion over its capture.
Mission Arikomban, named after the tusker – notorious for breaking into ration shops to steal rice and causing damage to human settlements in Chinnakanal and Santhanpara areas of this hill district – started at 4 am on Saturday and went on till 6 pm. The elephant was released 20 km deep inside the Periyar tiger reserve after being captured.
Also read: Kerala HC warns of action if Arikomban case resettlement area is elephant habitat
State Forest Minister A K Saseendran said the radio collar attached to the elephant will alert officials on its movement and allow them to take necessary precautions in case it ventures into human habitat again.
The High Court had earlier directed the Kerala Forest Department not to reveal the location.
“Forest officials have made all necessary arrangements (for translocation of the elephant),” the minister told PTI.
Saseendran said the government had proposed various locations before the high court and this particular reserve was selected as its climatic conditions are similar to those of Chinnakkanal.
Saddled in the southern region of the Western Ghats, the Periyar Tiger Reserve is spread across 777 sq km of area and is home to a luxuriant collection of different species of flora and fauna.
Capturing the wild tusker
Earlier, the task force had a tough day, braving heavy rain and fog, as they tried to tranquilise the elephant and shift it to a truck with the help of four Kumki elephants. The Kumki elephants, trained for trapping and capturing wild tuskers, successfully managed to push the rouge tusker into the truck despite facing great resistance.
The task force spotted the elephant Arikomban near Suryanelli in the morning and a tranquilising team led by Dr Arun Zacharia surrounded the area.
Fortunately for the task force team, the elephant did not go deeper inside the forest, and the first tranquiliser shot was fired at 11.55 am and followed by the first booster at 12.40 pm. Five more boosters were subsequently given.
However, the task force members could not cover the eyes of the wild elephant with a black cloth to keep it calm. They used the arm of an earthmover to reach the top of the animal in the truck to fix a GPS-enabled radio collar, which was insisted on by the Kerala High Court.
Also read: Kerala: Protests erupt over shifting ‘rice-loving’ tusker to Parambikulam
Confusion over relocation
Mission Arikomban has had its share of controversies, with animal rights activists opposing the move of the forest department to capture and tame it to become a Kumki elephant at Kodanad Elephant Centre in Ernakulam district.
Based on a plea of animal rights activists, the High Court, stopped the department’s move.
The court appointed an expert committee to study the issue. The panel suggested that the elephant be translocated to a wild area where there would be no chance of conflict with humans.
The committee had suggested shifting the elephant to the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. Soon, protests erupted in the Parambikulam area, with residents fiercely opposing the move. The High Court then asked the Kerala government to release it in a place of its choice and asked them to keep the location a secret.
Also read: Anayirankal | Unscientific resettlement led to man-animal conflict: Expert panel to HC
The locals of Chinnakanal and Santhanpara had been up in arms against the rogue elephant and had been demanding its translocation from their area. The place, situated between the Anayirangal Dam on one side and several tribal settlements on the other, has many more elephants that were denied their corridors of passage.
Though one elephant is now being removed from the locality, the experts said that the issue is far from over.
(With inputs from agencies)