The natives of Munnar and Marayoor in Idukki district are up in arms about the herd of wild elephants roaming in their neck of the woods, wreaking havoc on the surroundings. Last week, the wild elephants destroyed a temporary shed in the Kanniyamman temple near Munnar, in addition to the fruit shops, bakery, ration shops and the vegetable plants. On Saturday morning, a few plantation workers heard loud sounds from an abandoned cattle shed at Pazayakad division on the Munnar-Marayoor stretch, only to find a wild elephant trapped in it. Frightened, the tusker destroyed the wall of the cattle shed and managed to escape. Last month, wild elephants entered in the tea plantation areas of Kannimala, Periyavara and Marayoor areas.
These incidents have triggered panic among residents in Munnar and Marayoor areas. They have demanded that the forest department capture these wild elephants and relocate them to deep forests. The forest officials, however, have refused to relocate them, claiming that it is not practical to do so and that the elephants will come back to human settlements.
‚ÄúRelocation of the wild elephants in these areas is a big task and not practical. Even if we relocate the tuskers to any other forests, they will reach the forest border areas and destroy the agricultural fields,‚ÄĚ he said.
Incidentally, last week, the Tamil Nadu forest officials captured a crop-raiding tusker Chinnathambi from Thadagam near Marayoor border and translocated it to Valparai near Topslip. But within two days, the tusker travelled close to 100 km and entered Angalakurichi village near Pollachi-Aliyar road. Now, the tusker is roaming along the farms of Udumalpet.
Why relocation is not practical
Padayappa, Arikomban, Hose Komban, Chakka Komban and Ganeshan - these are some of the popular wild elephants and the regular visitors of Munnar and Marayoor stretches in Kerala and the ones that the residents here wanted to be translocated.
Among them, Padayappa is the most popular and less intimidating wild elephant, according to the natives of Munnar and environmentalists.
According to a forest official, Padayappa can be easily spotted with its limp due to an injury on its hind leg and unusually long tusks. The elephant is believed to be around 50 to 60 years old.
‚ÄúNormally, wild elephants can turn violent any time. But Padayappa does not harm anybody and is more familiar among the local people as well. Padayappa is frequently sighted on Munnar-Marayoor roadside, but does not attack vehicles and passengers,‚ÄĚ a forest department official told TNM.
Padayappa is a superstar, named after Rajinikanth‚Äôs well-known character Padayappa in the 1999 film of the same title. In fact, the wild elephant imitates one of the famous dialogues by the actor in the film - ‚ÄėAen vazi tani vazi‚Äô (My way my own way) - in his own way.
He received media attention several years ago when he ate a bag of carrots without harm the local vendor in Rajamala in Munnar. In 2015, when the vendor sighted Padayappa from far, she hid a sackful of carrots bags under a small bridge. However, the superstar he is, Padayappa took the bags and ate the carrots, without harming the woman.
In 2001, when former Chief Minister AK Antony was returning from Munnar after launching a project, Padayappa blocked the road, delaying his journey to the next programme.
There was a time when the tusker went missing from Munnar for several months. Environmentalists, forest officials and local people thought the tusker had moved to another area. But after a long gap, Padayappa returned to Rajamala, in 2017, on Thiruvonam, the most auspicious day during the Onam festival, in his own style, like Mahabali.
Since then, Padayappa has been active in and around Munnar.
Last year, Padayappa disrupted a football match at Kannimala near Munnar. As the players were in action on the ground of the hill station, Padayappa ambled along from a forest nearby. While the players scrambled in different directions, Padayappa sat for some time on football ground and returned to the forest later.
According to environmentalist MN Jayachandran, capturing and relocating wild elephants is not a one-stop solution to the tusker menace. ‚ÄúThese wild elephants have been using the paths and entering these settlements for several decades; and hence the new generation of elephants will follow the same path. The growing settlements have reduced the habitat of the wild elephants, prompting them to forcefully enter these human areas,‚ÄĚ he points out.
‚ÄúHabitat restoration is the only way to prevent elephant menace in and around Munnar. Residents in these areas have to be relocated and thus restore the elephant habitat,‚ÄĚ he suggests.
‚ÄúRecently, Munnar Divisional Forest Officer S Narendra Babu submitted a proposal to the Chief Wildlife Warden, pointing out that the Kerala government should relocate the families in the settlement areas in the Sinkukandam and 301 colony areas near Munnar, which are prone to wild elephant attacks. The proposal is under consideration.‚ÄĚ he says.
The Forest Department official adds, ‚ÄúThe wild elephants in these areas are more familiar with human settlements and know that they will easily find food and water. Hence, capturing and translocation will not help reduce the attacks by wild elephants; they will only return to human habitats.‚ÄĚ