The Forest Department had been trying to capture 'Vadakkanadu Komban' for months, after locals complained that it was destroying crops and threatening their safety.

In their first op Keralas kumki elephants help capture wild tusker Vadakkanadu Komban
news Wildlife Monday, March 11, 2019 - 16:15

The wild tusker which has been destroying crops in Vadakkanad and nearby areas at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was finally captured by the Forest and Wildlife department on Monday morning. Referred to as ‘Vadakkanadu Komban’, locals had protested that the elephant was a threat to their safety and sought its capture. Incidentally, its capture was was also the first operation where Kerala's own newly trained kumki elephants were used. 

The massive project began around 9 pm on Saturday at Chembarathimoola forest near Vadakkanad in Kurichiyad range of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. It involved about 120 forest department personnel, including forest watchers and forest officers, Kerala’s kumki elephants, vets, trackers and tranquiliser experts. The operation was led by B Anjan Kumar, Chief Conservator Forests and Wildlife, Palakkad.

The team faced initial hurdles, especially on Sunday when the elephant moved to a marshland, after sensing it was being tracked.

"Late on Sunday, we changed the strategy once it reached a farm in Chembarathimoola to eat. We delayed its feeding time; as a result, it stayed there till around 6 am on Monday. As it was about to leave, the jumbo was administered the first tranquiliser dart, and then a second shot at 6.45 am,” Dhanesh Kumar, DFO, Kozhikode, told TNM.

The 26-year-old elephant was given a Ketamine-Xylazine combination drug in the tranquilizer by a veterinary team led by Dr Arun Zachariah, Forest Veterinary Officer. “After it showed mild sedation symptoms, we shifted it with the help of Kerala’s own kumki elephants. Later, it was transported to Muthanga elephant camp by truck where it will continue to be under observation for a few days at the temporary kraal (enclosure) set up here," Dhanesh said.

NT Sajan, Wildlife Warden of Wayanad shared that this was the first venture involving the newly trained kumki elephants - Neelakandan, Pramugha and Surya. “We are happy that our Kumkis were very successful in their first venture itself," Sajan said.

The three captive elephants were at Theppakkadu elephant camp in Mudumalai reserve, Tamil Nadu from June 2018 to undergo special training to be Kerala Forest Department’s own kumkis. As requested by Kerala Forest and Wildlife department, expert kumki trainers were engaged by the Tamil Nadu Forest department for this purpose. 

"This time, kumki Neelakandan led the operation. Local public were not involved in any stage of the operation considering it as high risk," Sajan said.

The elephant had killed a tribal boy in Ponkuzhi on May 30, 2018. On the same day, the Chief Wildlife warden had issued an order to capture the tusker after demands from inhabitants in the area. However, it had left immediately after the incident and was in the adjacent Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, for many months.

Later, in December 2018, the jumbo was spotted again in Vadakkanad area and was found to be destroying crops, triggering panic among the locals. The department had also warned the locals to stay alert then.

"Though there were allegations by the locals that three more persons were killed in attacks by the same elephant in the past, the Forest Department has officially verified only the Ponkuzhi incident," Sajan clarified.

"On March 12, 2018, the elephant was fixed with a radio collar telemeter, after protests from the locals to capture it. Exactly, one year later, on March 11, 2019, this collar was removed after the elephant was captured and sent to Muthanga camp. Its health and other parameters are being checked. We’re monitoring the animal, and are not deliberating on his release now," Dhanesh Kumar said.

(All photos courtesy the Forest Department)

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