Arikomban went from orphaned calf to troublemaker

For all his belligerence, residents say that every year the tusker is seen heading to the Kongini City area where his mother is cremated

Published: 24th March 2023 08:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th March 2023 08:18 AM   |  A+A-


Arikomban found roaming in a tea estate at Periyakanal in Idukki

Express News Service

IDUKKI: The perilous mission to capture Arikomban, the rogue tusker that has spread panic in the Chinnakkanal area of Devikulam forest range, has caught the state’s fancy. Pachyderms are not new to the area. Even before the government rehabilitated landless tribals to 301 Colony, in Chinnakkanal, and settlements first began to sprout at the turn of the century, elephants where part and parcel of the local community. 

Residents remember first encountering Arikomban as a one-year-old calf, along with his ailing mother, in the Lower Division of  Muttukad cardamom estate of Vaikundam Plantations near Chinnakkanal in 1987. “The mother had an injured leg. She was taken care of by tribals and forest watchers for around three months before she succumbed to her wounds. Arikomban has since remained cut off from its herd. It grew up alone, confining its movement to the Chinnakkanal area,” Muttukad estate watcher Sivan M, who is aiding the rapid response team execute Mission Arikomban, told TNIE.  

In those days, there were few houses in the area and the tusker after venturing into the habitation used to damage crops and eat plantains. “Arikomban was then known as ‘Kallakomban’ -- tusker who steals. Since the houses were huts made of bamboo and grass, it was easy for him to grab the food with his trunk and move around. Very few houses were damaged in the process,” he said. 

The situation, however, changed when more houses came up in the area and the government of A K Antony allotted land to rehabilitate as many as 301 landless tribals near the Anayirankal dam in 2001. With huts making way for concrete houses, Arikomban was forced to damage them to steal food. The ration shop in Panniyar tea estate and the house of Vijayan, in Periyakanal, have been targeted over five times in the past three months. Increased human-animal conflict also saw him killing nearly 10 people in Santhanpara and Chinnakkanal.  

Estate watcher Sivan M

Although Arikomban, who is now 36 years old, is a junior compared to the other troublemakers -- Chakkakomban and Murivalan -- roaming the area, he is aggressive, with his ability to clamber out of trenches and obliterate obstacles. For all his belligerence, residents say that every year at a certain time the tusker is seen heading to the Kongini City area where his mother is cremated, and spends some time there.  “Although the tusker has caused trouble, he is part of the life of residents here. Now, it has become impossible for locals to sleep peacefully at night. The tusker could easily break into our houses and trample us,” Sivan said. 

Arikomban, who is now camping in Periyakanal, will have to be guided to 301 Colony or Cement Palam area if he is to be tranquillised and captured. The forest department is preparing for the mission and the remaining two kumki (trained) elephants are expected to arrive on Friday.

The delay in transporting the kumki elephants to the area had put off the operation by a day -- to Sunday. Furthermore, the Kerala High Court on Thursday directed the forest department to not proceed with the operation till March 29.



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