‘Operation Arikomban’: Month-long efforts to capture rogue tusker finally concludes
It’s this time of the year when the excitement of elephant lovers of Kerala reaches a crescendo as majestic jumbos line up for the state’s largest cultural festival Thrissur Pooram which falls on Sunday. However, a wild tusker in the high ranges of the Idukki district has kept the elephant fans excited but for a different reason. The elusive rogue elephant that had been encroaching on human settlements and terrorising the villagers for years was finally darted with tranquilizers on Saturday in a special operation launched by the state government.
It has been more than a month since the forest department mobilised its men for capturing the infamous elephant that goes by the name ‘Arikomban’ (rice tusker) owing to its immense love for rice (Ari). The elephant had been roaming in the human settlements of Chinnakanal, Santhanpara and Bodimettu, raiding the ration shops for rice and other grains.
Although the forest department planned strategies to capture Ariomban, and convert it into a ‘kumki’ which had been the practice, the intervention of Kerala High Court, acting upon a petition by animal lovers, changed the fate of Arikomban.
After he was tranquilized, Arikomban would be radio-collared and shifted to another forest tract, the details of which the department has refused to reveal as per the direction of the Kerala High Court. Prohibitory orders were clamped in selected wards of the Chinnakanal and Santhanpara panchayats to carry out the daunting task of ‘Operation Arikomban’.
The villages that Arikomban frequented had traditional settlements of the Muthuvan community that used to co-exist with wild animals in the area. However, re-settlements of tribal people in the region nearly two decades ago changed the situation leading to a rise in human-animal conflict. Over the years, the man-elephant conflict escalated to more villages such as Tankkudi, Chempakathozhukudi, Kozhipannakudi, Singukandam, B.L. Puram, Suryanelli, Panthadikalam, Chinnakanal, and Poopara.
Another factor that attracted Arikomban to this region was the availability of plenty of water at the nearby Anayirangal dam and vast grassland.
Now believed to be aged around 30, the rogue tusker in recent years had repeatedly attacked public distribution shops (PDS) shops at Chinnakanal in search of rice.
The imposing wild elephant, meanwhile, has a blood-stained tryst with the villages, which led to people demanding his capture and rehabilitation. Forest department officials confirmed that Arikomban has trampled seven people to death, despite the unofficial figures being 11. “From 2005 to 2013, as many as 34 people had been killed in elephant attacks in this region. Possibly, Arikomban would be the habitual killer among them. He has been in the region for nearly 18 years,’’ said an official.
This is not the first time that the forest department has tried to capture Arikomban, to end the elephant menace. In 2017, Arikomban was fired with tranquilizer shots, but the animal escaped into the wilderness.
Realising Arikomban’s strong penchant for rice and rice bags at PDS shop, last month the forest officials erected a dummy ration shop to lure the tusker before darting it. However, the forest department could not go ahead with the plan due to an interim stay by the court.