‘Forest Department should spend money on installing solar fence’

Kuppepalayam hamlet in Thondamuthur Panchayat on a Sunday morning is unusually busy. At the village centre, in the shade the residents have gathered around men in khaki, who sporting green caps are busy distributing handbills. A little away from the people, remains parked a green truck that says Tamil Nadu Forest Department. Opposite the truck, chained to two huge tamarind trees that are at least 10 feet from one another are two trained tuskers (kumkis). The entire space is littered with coconut leaves and elephant waste.

The Department’s watchers and other field staff are busy getting ready for the afternoon operation – to take the two elephants on a terrain-familiarisation walk along the forest boundary. The village abuts the Booluvampatty Forest Range.

Those distributing the handbills and talking to the villagers are asking the people to immediately alert the Department staff on the given phone numbers if they spot wild elephants near the village boundary.

Forester W.C. Pandiaraj, who supervises the operation on the ground, says that at the instructions of his superiors Forest Range Office C. Dinesh Kumar and District Forest Officer M. Senthilkumar, he has moved the two trained elephants, Nanjan, 55, and Pari, 35, three days ago to Kuppepalayam.

Mr. Dinesh Kumar says that the objective is to walk and if necessary park the elephants along the boundary so as to deter the lone forest elephant from entering the human habitation.

The wild elephant – identified as a tusk-less one (makhna) – has been entering Kuppepalayam, Vandikaranur, Dhaliyur, Devarayapuram and a few other hamlets in search of food and water. The elephant has also trampled to death an elderly woman, Murugammal, in Selambanoor, a couple of days ago.

The Department took the decision to deploy the two kumki after the elephant attacked the woman, he adds.

After the decision, the Department transported the elephants in lorries. It also transported ragi, kollu (horse gram), rice, salt, jaggery and liquefied petroleum gas cylinders to cook food for the elephants.

The two have nine kg ragi, two kg kollu, two kg rice, 50 gm of salt and jaggery for a session. They elephants have two feeding sessions and in between those sessions they eat coconut leaves.

Mr. Pandiaraj says the Department has used the additional building at the Thondamuthur Panchayat Union Primary School for cooking the food for elephants.

The caretakers – kavadi and mahout – after unchaining the elephants are busy talking to them. One after the other, the two lift their left fore legs to help the mahouts reach the top.

With the kavadi (caretaker), a few villagers and enthusiastic villagers trailing, the two elephants head to the boundary. The entourage is greeted by barking dogs that stay at a safe distance.

After the 20-km walk along the village boundary, the field staff will take the elephants to the village centre for dinner and night halt. Only if necessary – upon sighting the lone, male wild elephant, will they take it to the boundary at night.

And, if the trained elephants have to move around at night, they will have to have a sense of the terrain, hence the familiarisation trips.

At the village, the farmers are enthused but not satisfied at the steps taken. The Forest Department will have to repair the solar fence and also maintain the same as that has served as a good deterrent, says M. Ramesh, a farmer.

V. Palanisamy, also a farmer, says that the kumki operation will only provide temporary relief in that once the lone, male elephant is chased away, the Department will relocate the two kumkis to the Chadivayal Elephant Camp, making the village vulnerable again to passing elephants.

The farmers say that rather than compensating the farmers for the crop loss, the Department shall do well to spend the money on a solar fence.