Wild tusker Arikomban tranqualised in Tamil Nadu, to be left deep into forests

By, Chennai
Jun 06, 2023 12:54 AM IST

The rice-loving elephant had strayed into human habitats and ration shops, created a chaos that earned him the nickname Arikomban

In less than two months, a 35-year-old elephant nicknamed Arikomban was tranqualised and captured for the second time on Monday. He was first capture in Kerala and in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district for the second time.

Forest officials transporting 'Arikomban' the wild elephant, at Idukki district in Kerala on April 29, 2023. (AFP)
Forest officials transporting 'Arikomban' the wild elephant, at Idukki district in Kerala on April 29, 2023. (AFP)

“He will be let deep into the forests of the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (in Tirunelveli district),” said a senior official not wishing to be named. “He will be left more than 150 km into the forest so no one can have access to him.”

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While a team of officers from the Tamil Nadu forest department will be monitoring him round the clock, they are not sure if this is a temporary arrangement. Only a few top officials of the government are aware if he would be shifted and if so, where, given the interest around Arikomban.

“For safety reasons, this information is shared with a few officials,” another official said. “While he has to be kept far away from human habitat, we also do not want to disclose locations which could encourage people to come and want to see the elephant. There is a lot of interest in this case.”

The rice-loving elephant had strayed into human habitats and ration shops, created a chaos that earned him the nickname Arikomban –( ari stands for rice and komban for male elephant, in Malayalam). A 56-year-old man had died in Theni on May 30, after being trampled on by the elephant, while in neighbouring Kerala, in the past two years, Arikomban, has reportedly killed eight people and destroyed many houses and shops.

When Arikomban was darted in the early hours of Monday, a large crowd gathered along the road route and cheered, while he was being transported on a truck. For a month, the elephant has instilled fear among the locals and section 144 was imposed by the district authority.

Arikomban strayed into the Tamil Nadu forest area on April 30. He had been translocated by the Kerala Forest department to the Periyar Tiger Reserve (in Kerala) on April 29 following an order by the Kerala high court.

In the neighbouring state, locals of several villages had protested for their safety. “It is a life and death situation for us,” P Rejimon, a farmer in Kerala, who had a miraculous escape from Arikomban, had told HT in April. Meanwhile, animal rights groups had also intervened, which led the court to strike down Kerala forest department’s plan to train Arikomban into a kumki elephant. Kumki elephants are elephants that are trained to tame and capture wild elephants.

Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin assured that the elephant will be captured. The state had earlier issued a solatium for a lone death and the damage of an auto, for which, Arikomaban was held responsible.

After days of searching, in the wee hours of Monday a team of forest veterinary surgeons darted the elephant when they found him moving in Chinnaobulapuram village, near Cumbum in Theni.

“Arikomban the wild tusker was safely tranquilised in early hours today in Cumbum East Range by a team of forest veterinary surgeons and forest department officials,” additional chief secretary of the Tamil Nadu forest department, Supriya Sahu, tweeted. “The elephant is being translocated to a suitable habitat, where the Tamil Nadu Forest Department will continue to monitor him.”

Animal rights activist and secretary of Coimbatore-based NGO Arulagam, S Bharathidasan says that it is disheartening that the fate of wild tuskers such as Arikomban can either be to be made a kumki elephant through rigorous training or be kept isolated. “Is that the only choice? How can people oppose the elephant to be let back into the forest?” questions Bharathidasan. “To satisfy the people, the state has also given in as a temporary arrangement.”

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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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