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While two tuskers, both fond of rice, have been giving sleepless nights to residents living on the edge of the forests in the border regions of Kerala, a precedent set by the Tamil Nadu forest department which had captured and released an elephant Arisi Raja (King of Rice) after radio-collaring it, has become a point of hot debate in Kerala over the dangers of releasing “problem” elephants back to the forest
Notorious for raiding houses in search of rice in Gudalur, Nilgiris district, even after radio-collaring, Arisi Raja alias Pandallur Makhna (PM2) later roamed a long way off to Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad district of Kerala befooling the round-the-clock signal tracking system of the forest department.
The animal was caught on CCTV cameras, attacking a speeding bus in Sulthan Bathery town at 2.30 am on January 6. A few daily-wage labourers sleeping on the footpath also had a narrow escape from the animal. Later, the elephant was captured by the Kerala forest department and kept in captivity in the elephant camp at Muthanga near Sulthan Bathery.
The incident once again bounced back to the limelight as the Kerala High Court recently issued a verdict against capturing another such elephant namely Ari Komban (‘Ari means rice’, ‘Komban means tusker’), at Chinnakanal in Idukki district. The HC verdict said instead of capturing and taming Ari Komban, the animal should be released into the jungle after fitting a radio-collar, so that forest department personnel could track its movements.
Notorious for raiding houses in search of rice in Gudalur, Nilgiris district, even after radio-collaring, Arisi Raja alias Pandallur Makhna (PM2) later roamed a long way off to Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad district of Kerala befooling the round-the-clock signal tracking system of the forest department
The elephant has a notorious track record of killing as many as 11 persons as per the official records and injuring more than 30 persons in the Chinnakanal and Santhanpara panchayats. Going by the data of the forest department itself, as many as 180 buildings have been damaged in the attacks and ration shops in the region have been raided more than 30 times.
However, the verdict of the high court has raised many questions regarding its propriety as even human beings with behavioural deviations and violent nature are forcefully confined, separated from mainstream life, citing safety of others. Farm activists insist that the law should take the same course of action in the case of “problem” animals as they are becoming a threat to the life of all other stakeholders of the ecosystem.
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The verdict has prompted a series of protests from farm activists and human rights activists who say releasing such animals would jeopardise the agrarian community living close to the jungle and members of tribal communities living inside the jungle. Moreover, close on the heels of the verdict, a section of animal lovers had also approached the forest department demanding the release of PM2, now in captivity, back to the forest which has triggered a debate over its after-effects.
Such animals with “behavioural deviations” should have been kept in captivity, tamed, trained and possibly inducted to the elephant patrol team, say farm activists. Whether Arisi Raja or Ari Komban, such animals have a dubious track record of regularly attacking human beings, and raiding and destroying countless numbers of houses and ration shops in search of rice and unleashing terror in human habitats by attacking vehicles.
Arisi Raja earned its name for its love of rice for which it has raided countless houses, most of them small huts of daily-wage labourers in Pandalur taluk of Nilgiris district. Despite the high claims of the forest department about the behavioural improvement of the animal after its release, local people of the region still claim that the animal continued to terrorise them till it crossed into the Kerala forest zones.
The only change was that the forest department had intensified its surveillance as it could access the signals from the radio collar. The animal had many attempts to enter human habitats but were foiled by the forest department personnel. The officials and staff maintained round the clock vigil, tracking the movements of the animal and scaring it away into the forest whenever it crossed into human habitats.
The verdict of the Kerala High Court has raised many questions regarding its propriety as even human beings with behavioural deviations and violent nature are forcefully confined, separated from mainstream life, citing safety of others. Farm activists insist that the law should take the same course of action in the case of “problem” animals
The verdict of the High Court against capturing of Ari Komban came at a time when the forest department was on a full swing with ‘Mission Ari Komban’, to tranquilise, capture and tame the animal as it had done earlier with PM2. Considering a petition filed by Vivek Menon, an animal lover, a division bench of the High Court after considering the report of an expert panel, directed the forest department on April 5 to release the animal in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Palakkad district after radio-collaring it.
The verdict had put the forest department in a catch-22 situation as Parambikulam has witnessed massive protests against the translocation. On April 11, the public, including the tribal people, in large numbers foiled the trial run of the forest department at Vazhachal in Thrissur district to shift Ari Komban to Muthuvarachal in Parambikulam through a jungle route.
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The move had also invited sharp criticism against the forest department with people’s representatives joining hands with activists’ forums.
Kerala Independent Farmers Association (KIFA) organised a series of protests in Parambikulam against the move. Nenmara MLA K Babu, who represents the Parambikulam region in the Kerala legislature, had approached the HC against shifting the animal to Parambikulam as more than 600 tribal families live inside the wildlife reserve whereas another 2000 families live in and around the tiger reserve. The expert panel appointed by the High Court had misled the judiciary, Babu said.
Hearing his petition, the HC division bench on Thursday (April 13) granted a week’s time to the state government to decide upon a suitable place for the translocation of Ari Komban. If the state government failed to finalise a place by then, the earlier verdict of the court to shift the animal to Parambikulam would prevail, it said. The court also directed the state government to maintain round-the-clock alerts, ensuring the protection of the animal as well as the public living in the locality.
Meanwhile, under extreme pressure from farmers’ organisations, the Kerala State government is all set to approach the Supreme Court, challenging the HC verdict against capturing and taming Ari Komban.
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