Last Updated: May 29, 2023, 21:10 IST
Arikomban, a 30-year-old elephant, has resided in the Devikulam forest land in the Idukki district of Kerala for several decades.
Arikomban, also known as Arisikomban, earned its name due to its frequent raids on rice stored in shops and houses.
Its first encounter occurred in 1987 when it was just a one-and-a-half-year-old calf. At that time, it was found with its ailing mother, who unfortunately succumbed to her wounds despite the efforts of tribals and forest staff to save her.
The mother elephant was cremated in the Kongini city area. The calf was then left orphaned and separated from its herd.
Arikomban, as it grew up, developed a habit of damaging crops and feeding on plantains, which earned it the nickname “Kallakomban,” meaning “the one who steals.” Due to the tribal houses being made of grass and bamboo, it was easy for the calf to use its trunk to grab food and move around.
Over time, more tribal hamlets settled in the area, and this elephant calf began damaging houses to steal food. The local ration shop was robbed five times for food.
As human activity increased in its territory, Arikomban became more aggressive, leading to the deaths of nearly ten people. Despite the threats it faced, this arrogant tusker still holds affection for its mother. During a certain time of the year, the elephant visits its mother’s cremation site and spends some time there, even showing a fondness for the residents.
To address the issue, the tusker was tranquillized and relocated to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, located 80 kilometres away from its original habitat.
The translocation process involved 150 staff members, and the Kerala government hailed it as a success. However, this created a new problem for Tamil Nadu.
Arikomban travelled for four days from the Periyar Tiger Reserve and reached the Chuliyur area, which is the foothills of Megamalai in Tamil Nadu. On May 4, Arikomban was spotted in three separate locations in Megamalai.
The tusker was observed wandering along the streets of the Cumbum area in Theni, injuring three people and causing damage to vehicles. As a result, the local administration imposed Section 144, and the Tamil Nadu government initiated an operation to capture the rogue elephant.
Three trained elephants named Suyambu, Udhayan, and Muthu, known as “Kumkis” were brought from Coimbatore’s Topslip elephant sanctuary to assist in capturing Arikomban.
Veterinarians from Madurai and Hosur also arrived in Cumbum, and the plan is to tranquillize and capture the elephant.
Since the elephant is equipped with a radio collar, multiple forest teams can closely monitor its movements. Along its journey to Surulipatti, the elephant enjoyed consuming jackfruits, plantains, and coconut trees.
As of now, Arikomban has moved on from Cumbum and is currently in Surulipatti. The 150-member team is prepared to dart Arikomban if it enters human habitations again.
A ban under Section 144 has been in effect in these areas for the past couple of days. The public, tourists, farmers, and others are requested not to venture into these areas as advised by the local administration.