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Taming of the wild

Trainers at the Teppakadu Elephant Camp put the animals through a basic obedience course and train them as workers.

india Updated: Oct 31, 2010 23:08 IST
KV Lakshmana

The mild manners and disciplined lifestyle do well to hide Moorthy’s wild past — during which he killed at least 14 people and was a terror across two states. But at 50, the “manic killer” of yore is a reformed… pachyderm.

Legend has it that Moorthy, all of 9 ft and 3 inches, would quietly wait for his victims before pouncing upon them. After a series of killings in Kerala, then chief minister EK Nayanar issued shoot-at-sight orders against him.

In 1998, on the run for his life, Moorthy slid into neighbouring Tamil Nadu. He was shot at several times, but continued his killing spree. When he was finally captured, his massive body was riddled with at least 30 bullets.

But instead of sending him to the gallows, the state government decided to domesticate him.

Today, Moorthy is a purring pet at the Teppakadu Elephant Camp, part of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiri district. He obediently listens to every command of his mahout P Chinnappan, exercises every morning, bathes at a nearby rivulet and has breakfast at 9am.

“We had to spend a lot of time with Moorthy to bring him back to normalcy. He was traumatised and needed lot of personal attention,” says Chinnappan, who is paid Rs 20,000 per month for taking care of Moorthy.

Moorthy weighs around 4.5 tonnes and is hale and hearty.

“When he was brought to the sanctuary, doctors had removed around 30 pellets from his body. After a two-year intensive training, he could be brought under control and is now the safest tuskless elephant in the camp,” says N Kalaivanan, a veterinary officer.

The elephant camp was established exactly 100 years ago, during the British period. Requisitions for its trained personnel regularly come in from the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Kerala whenever rogue elephants stray into human habitats.

The camp has also trained many temple elephants. The trainers put the animals through a basic obedience course and train them as workers.

“It is a one-of-a-kind camp in South India,” says Rajiv K Srivastava, director of the Mudumalai reserve. “Elephants here are used to create awareness, jungle patrolling to assist anti-poaching watchers and to control man-animal conflict outside the forests.”