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  Life   More Features  23 Feb 2017  Wild card: The fight over one elephant

Wild card: The fight over one elephant

THE ASIAN AGE. | JOSE NIVEDITHA
Published : Feb 23, 2017, 6:33 am IST
Updated : Feb 23, 2017, 6:43 am IST

In Kerala, how a very “unique” pachyderm from the frontlines of man-animal conflict has managed to split expert opinion.

Komban’s capture has caused much controversy in a state that’s still struggling to define its relationship with the elephant. In captivity, Komban has lost nearly two tonnes in weight.
 Komban’s capture has caused much controversy in a state that’s still struggling to define its relationship with the elephant. In captivity, Komban has lost nearly two tonnes in weight.

People of two districts in Kerala are currently fighting against an order from the state’s forest department to release a captured “problem elephant”. These animals are just like teenagers — with their own share of problems. Except for perhaps an ability to toss a small car, elephants are very much like humans. Which is why many are terrified of Kallur Komban.

When there was an attempt in December to release Komban into a jungle in Wayanad from where he was captured in November, residents from surrounding areas came out in protest. Then, there was another order to release the elephant into the Parambikkulam wildlife sanctuary in Palakkad — which was opposed too. Interestingly, the protests were from both animal lovers and farmers.

You see, Komban has not been your average elephant. In fact, the locals call him by another name — Bharathan SI, in honour of a terrific police sub-inspector who was posted in the region on the fringes of the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary bordering the Bandipur National Park of Karnataka.

And when Komban turned violent and started attacking homes and residents, Kerala forest minister K. Raju called for his capture. It took trained specialists and several tranquilizer darts to bring him into a specially-constructed kraal, in November.

Conservationist O. Vishnu, who has studied Komban for a while, says the animal is unique. “For the past five years, he has been roaming the farmlands and only eats from the plantations. He loves the tender paddy and prefers only the best,” Mr Vishnu says. Komban is also “in touch” with the human world. He sleeps during the day, lying down, and even “refuses” to be woken up. But Komban was okay overall until he turned hostile in October last year. He put one person in the hospital with serious injuries and many farmers even had to abandon fertile plots due to Komban and friends — who do not enter human settlements unless they are “led” from the front by their boss. But Komban’s capture has caused much controversy in a state that’s still struggling to define its relationship with the elephant. Wildlife activists oppose Komban’s long-distance transfer and want him back in his home. But the farmers are hell-bent on getting Komban away as far as possible.   

Forest officials had ordered the transportation of the animal to the Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary in Kerala’s Palakkad district — about 200 kilometers away from Wayanad in February’s first week but that move has been met with opposition too. The worried people at the new venue don’t want Komban anywhere near them. 

Meanwhile, the elephant who loves the wild continues to be in limbo. Since his capture, Komban has lost nearly two tonnes in weight and is now being forced to obey orders from mahouts. It would almost seem like the only people who want him are the ones hoping that such an animal can be tamed.

Tags: palakkad, bandipur national park