TN forest dept may release more camp elephants depending on success of Rivaldo's rehabilitation

Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj said that a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on capture and release of wild elephants will be rolled out in a fortnight
Rivaldo maintained at a kraal in Vazhaithottam in Nilgiris | Express
Rivaldo maintained at a kraal in Vazhaithottam in Nilgiris | Express

CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu forest department is mulling the idea of rehabilitating some captive jumbos, housed in different elephant camps across the state, into the wild. However, this would depend on the outcome of Rivaldo's transfer to the forest.

In a 10-hour operation, the iconic tusker Rivaldo, which was captured and put inside a kraal for nearly three months, was successfully released in Chikala in Theppakadu forest range of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve on Monday. It was for the first time such a role reversal from kraal to wild was done in the country.

Fitted with a radio collar, Rivaldo's movement is being monitored on an hourly basis. The last live location shows Rivaldo was moving towards Bandipur National Park in Karnataka, senior forest officials told The New Indian Express.

"If we succeed in keeping Rivaldo away from humans for a considerable period of time and fully rehabilitate him into a wild tusker, then we have a strong case to release excess elephants in the camps. Currently, there are too many elephants under the care of the forest department. This is not good from an ecology point of view as well as financially. For instance, the camp in Mudumalai has 28 elephants which is not desirable," said Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj and added that a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on the capture and release of wild elephants will be rolled out in a fortnight.

The forest department spends an estimated Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.20 lakh on an elephant every month, which means for the Mudumalai elephant camp alone, the department is spending close to Rs 35 lakh. This excludes the salaries paid to mahouts and kavadis. It's a huge financial burden on the government.

Niraj said it is very important that the genetic diversity of the older males is preserved in the population by protecting them and allowing them to breed freely. The Asian elephant in Tamil Nadu has shown signs of population decline to an alarming level. "Compared to the costs to be incurred in capturing, training and maintaining an elephant in captivity, managing it in the wild will be far less expensive and conservation and ecology friendly," he said.

The official said the department is committed to the welfare of retired elephants, which cannot survive in the wild and keep a few kumki elephants to assist the department in its operations. "The rest can be slowly released," he said.

Echoing the opinion of the Chief Wildlife Warden, environment secretary Supriya Sahu said, "Rivaldo's operation is a big learning for us. Capturing elephants, taming them and keeping them in a camp is not only cruel and expensive exercise but is the most unsustainable one. Today, when we did the role reversal from kraal to wild, what struck me was the need to reimagine the entire wildlife management policy and move towards the one which is transformational for animals, people and also for the government."

N Sadiq Ali, founder of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust, said he had already written to the forest department stressing the need to rehabilitate the excess camp elephants into the wild.

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The New Indian Express