COIMBATORE: Kaleem, the 57-year-old superstar kumki of Tamil Nadu, who help catch and discipline several rogue elephants in 30 years of service with the State forest department, may hang up his boots next year.
The impending retirement of the 5,000kg behemoth instrumental in capturing, taming and chasing away nearly 100 wild elephants back into the woods would leave a huge void in the State tusker force. The ‘gentle giant’ has been an intelligent, obedient, friendly force-multiplier and a leader among kumkis, forest sources said.
In its long years of service, the kumki had not only assisted the Tamil Nadu forest department to keep wild elephants that cause loss of lives and damage to crops and property under leash in Tamil Nadu, it has travelled up to West Bengal and has taken part in several operations in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Sources said the animal is known for cornering wild elephants to help veterinarians administer sedative darts to capture them. Kaleem was brought to Kozhikamuthi elephant camp near Topslip in 1972 after he was separated from his herd in Sathymangalam Tiger Reserve (STR) when he was six years old.
NS Manokaran, former Joint Director of Animal Husbandry department, said, “The animal is over eight-foot tall and weighs more than five tonnes. It has a strong body. The shape of its head and trunk, the shape and girth of its tusks, and its long body are all naturally suitable for a kumki elephant. I spotted these characteristics most suitable for a kumki in Kaleem even when he was 15 years old.
The animal is also skilled in rescuing wild elephants that fall into pits apart from pulling wooden logs even in the slush in the Topslip region. Twenty-five years ago, Kaleem was sent along with Pallava, another kumki, to Jaldapara in West Bengal in a forest department truck (the animal used to take rest during journey) and spent nearly a month there.”
Manokaran, who had spent nearly three decades with Kaleem, said “Kaleem has the ability to learn about his terrain quickly and he has the innate skill to overcome challenges. He will follow the orders of his old mahout Palanisamy and present mahout Mani in learning new skills.
Mahout Mani said, “If Kaleem manages to drives away a wild elephant next time, he would be completing his 100th successful operation. His last operation at Mettupalayam and Anaikatti was not a success as we could not capture the wild elephant.”
Though Kaleem’s exit will be an irreplaceable loss, ATR sources said they are ready with a plan to keep their operations going. We have already trained other kumki elephants such as Kapildev, Rajavarthan and Syambu and some wild-elephant-turned-captives like Chinnathambi and Arisiraja. ATR officials said they will soon send a proposal to the State government seeking nod to retire Kaleem from service.