‘Save Chinnathambi’: Public outrages against TN govt’s move to domesticate wild jumbo

The Forest Department is attempting to recapture Chinnathambi, an elephant that had been translocated in January for raiding fields, as it tries to move towards its home once again.
‘Save Chinnathambi’: Public outrages against TN govt’s move to domesticate wild jumbo
‘Save Chinnathambi’: Public outrages against TN govt’s move to domesticate wild jumbo

In June 2016, in one of the largest missions by Tamil Nadu forest authorities, 20-year-old wild elephant ‘Kattayan’ alias ‘Madukkarai Maharaj' was tranquilised and trapped in rural Coimbatore. The elephant was termed a trouble maker as he raided crops in the village near the forest he resided in. Just days before his capture, a botched-up operation to get hold of the tusker led to the death of a forest official who was trampled upon and killed. The next time, however, aware of the elephant's aggression, he was kept in a wooden enclosure (kraal) to prevent escape. But Maharaj, removed from his natural habitat and caged, allegedly grew increasingly violent, slamming into the kraal with its trunk and head constantly. Two days after the jumbo’s capture, forest officials claimed, Maharaj hit the wooden structure hard with his forehead, fell down and died in the next five minutes.

In the postmortem report, it was found that the animal died due to multiple fractures on its forehead and it had eaten barely anything in its last days. Maharaj died in his efforts to return to the wild.

Now, two-and-half years after Tamil Nadu mourned this horrific death of Madukkarai Maharaj, they are watching a similar operation unfold in Coimbatore district. Chinnathambi, a 25-year-old tusker who raided crops near Thadagam in Coimbatore was tranquilised and translocated to Varagaliar forests on January 26.       

This after villagers from Anaikatti in the district have been protesting since August 2018, demanding that Chinnathambi is relocated. They had even public demonstrations to highlight their plight. They accused the elephant of ravaging their crops and damaging houses for close to a year. In addition to this, the elephant apparently tried entering kitchens of the house in the area to take provisions like wheat and rice.

Chinnathambi that was fitted with a radio collar to track his location, however, began moving in search of his home on Friday morning. In just the last three days, this jumbo has covered 100 kilometres to reunite with his herd and is currently near Udumalpet in Tirupur district.

Soon after news of his movement spread, Forest Minister Dindugal Sreenivasan, told the media, "The elephant has been entering villages in the last few days even after translocation and has crossed over 80 km. Now the animal has stationed itself near Udumalpet. The government has a larger role to protect the lives of the people and their agricultural fields. There is no other option left now but to capture the animal and tame it to be used as a kumki."

Two kumki elephants have already been dispatched to Chinnathambi's current spot to guide him back to the forest. One elephant Khaleem is already present at the site and has earned the wild tusker's trust and the other elephant is on the way to the location. And while forest rangers claim they have received no orders to train the wild elephant, the Minister's comments have led to a backlash from activists.

"The Forest Department is going to torture Chinnathambi the way they did Maharaj two years back," says Antony Rubin, an animal activist. "The process of making an elephant a kumki is very stressful for the animal. It is put in a kraal and beaten black and blue till its spirit breaks. It is not given food either. This is what happened to Maharaj even though they claim he caused those injuries to himself. The truth is that the Forest Department needs more kumki elephant and they are taking advantage of this situation," he adds.

The activist further points out that the elephant's traditional routes in the district were blocked due to intensive sand mining in the area and he was merely trying to find alternate routes for the herd. And while the Forest Department is allegedly paying no heed to these issues, the public definitely is.

Using the hashtag '#SaveChinnathambi', people across the country are questioning if the animal does not have a right to live and slammed the government's decision to keep him away from his herd.

Several have even compared Chinnathambi's situation to Maharaj's and pointed out that the government should not allow for another death.

The public's anxiety over Chinnathambi's fate has not gone unheard. While talking to the media on Sunday evening the Forest Minister too said the government will rethink on its decision to make the elephant a kumki. He also acknowledged that human occupation of the traditional routes of elephants was the main cause for the ongoing conflict. 

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