Wildlife
Meet this captured Kerala crop-raider tusker who yearns to go back to the wild.

Kallur Komban is disturbed for most part of the day, the uneasiness of having his legs tied to the kraal with ropes, visible in his haunted black eyes. He hardly flaps his ears, being woozy with the effects of tranquilizer shots that are administered to him each day.

Till about three months ago, the Kallur forest in Wayanad was the abode of 28-year old Kallur Komban (in Malayalam Komban refers to a male tusker). But on November 21, 2016, he was captured by forest officials, while he was on one of his usual adventurous forays into human inhabitations that lay adjoining to the forest area.

This was the third time the errant tusker was captured in the last four years, after he began troubling locals by regularly destroying their paddy fields. On the previous two occasions, he was allowed to return to the forest.

But this time around, Komban may end up paying a heavy price for his frequent raids of farms and fields in the area. According to an official with the state Forest Department, six men had died last year after they were attacked by wild elephants.

Locals hence are wary about Komban’s return to the forest. Forest officials too are not keen on allowing him to return to where he was captured from, as they fear such a move could provoke a flurry of protests from locals against granting Komban his freedom.

“The locals would just end up setting fire to everything. They are absolutely furious about the continued attacks by wild elephants. Apart from the people who died last year, several others were attacked, with a few still undergoing treatment,” the official said.

Locals have nicknamed Komban as ‘Bharathan SI’, after a sub-inspector who was posted there two decades ago. He was a nightmare for goons in the area, and was famous for his ‘goonda drives’, remembers VK Venkatachalam, secretary of the Heritage Animal Task Force based in Thrissur. 

"The SI was apparently posted out many a time, but he is said to have made an appearance every now and then. Since Komban shared the same trait, he was nicknamed Bharathan SI,” smiles Venkitachalam. 

Nearly a month after he was captured, officials attempted to release the tusker into the Kallur forest on December 30 last year but had to abort the move, following opposition by the locals. 

Officials say that they have now ruled out the possibility of releasing the male tusker back into the Kallur forest, as they fear that enraged locals -if they found out- may even end up poisoning other elephants in the area in a fit of rage. 

It was then decided to move Komban to the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Palakkad. Though Additional Chief Secretary P Marapandiyan had even issued orders last week in this regard, tribals residing in the reserve forest area spearheaded a mass agitation against such a move. Forest officials had to once again retract their decision.

"Tribals blocked the highway, with one MLA too joining the chorus. We now have very little hope about the tusker being sent to Parambikkulam," rues P Dhanesh, Wildlife Warden, while speaking to The News Minute.

He says that if Komban is sent to Parambikkulam, it would be the first time a tusker is being relocated to the Reserve. Though a male tusker was relocated to Mannarkad Range in 2013, it had died soon after.

Many forest officials themselves however do not support the Additional Chief Secretary's decision to relocate the elephant. 

"Too many complications….for one, Parambikkulam is more than 300 kilometres away from Wayanad. It will prove to be an arduous journey for the elephant. Also, in case the elephant develops any health issues or creates problems there, it would be difficult to then tame the elephant," opines Dhanesh. 

Speaking on the issue, Venkitachalam lashed out at the officials for their poor handling of the whole matter, reiterating that wild elephants should not be captured, but be allowed back into the forest. 

Raising concern over ‘Bharatan SI's’ health, he pointed out that the elephant has lost two tonnes of weight in the last three months spent in capture. But Dhanesh insists that Komban is healthy and that the Department is now awaiting the state government’s decision to relocate the elephant. 

"The forest in Mathunga is ruled out. We now cannot take him to Parambikkulam too. Now that the elephant has become quite familiar with the mahout looking after him, we are contemplating sending him to our elephant camp at Mathunga. There are already three elephants at the camp. If Komban is sent there, our staff will be able to monitor his movements," feels Dhanesh.