Dearth of money and a serious shortage of hardwood kambakam (Hopea parviflora) is holding up repair work on the famed elephant kraal (aanakkood) at Kodanad, a village whose history is intimately linked to the tradition of capture and taming of wild elephants.
The Department of Forests has plans to repair the elephant kraal which has fallen into virtual disuse after the ban on capture of wild elephants came into effect in the early 1970s. Though a formal proposal for its repair is to be put up to the government, the aanakkood, portions of which have sustained some damage over the years, is in for maintenance, Forest Department sources said.
The elephant kraal is a cage, roughly 12x12 m in size, used to train elephants that are caught from the wild. The cage is built using hefty logs of kambakam, also called thambakam in some parts of Kerala and referred to as Iron Wood of Malabar in common parlance.
Famed for its weather-proof and termite resistant qualities and compressive strength, timber from kambakam does not splinter on heavy impact, said K.P.Ouseph, Principle Chief Conservator of Forests, explaining the reason for its central place in building elephant kraals.
However, the tree is a slow-growing one like rosewood and only timber from trees aged between 200 and 300 years is good enough for building kraals. Besides, said Dr. Ouseph, the Department of Forests collects only fallen or dying trees.
The Kodanad kraal is believed to have been set up about the time when wild elephant capture got underway in erstwhile Travancore in 1895. The Forest Department records show that the kraal was repaired in 1965 at a cost of Rs. 40,346.
Located 35 km east of Kochi, the kraal and associated facilities, including a mini zoo, are major tourist attractions. Preserving the kraal and the facilities for posterity is important because they represent a great lineage, said M.P. Prakash, executive committee member of the Ernakulam District Tourism Promotion Council.
Around one lakh people visit Kodanad every year. The soon-to-be-commissioned Kodanad-Malayattoor bridge will increase the flow of visitors. The upcoming bridge will make Kodanad more easily accessible to visitors from Kottayam and the High Ranges, who will be able to reach the place using the Keezhillam-Kurichilakkode road without entering Perumbavoor town.
However, he expressed disappointment over the delay in beginning work on the Abhayaranyam project. Forest Department officials had said that a comprehensive plan has been drawn up for Kodanad. The plans include a mini-zoo in the 134-hectare Kaprikkad Reserve Forest, which lies adjacent to the elephant kraal facing the river Periyar.
Completion of the project will see Kodanad emerging as a major destination for tourists coming to Kerala because of its natural surrounding, crowned by the presence of the Periyar along one of its most majestic reaches.
Animals well cared for, says official
Though flummoxed by the rising cost of upkeep of the captive animals in the Kaprikkad Reserve Forest and at the Kodanad animal rescue centre, the Department of Forests has stoutly denied reports of the animals not being fed after contractors stopped supplies owing to mounting payment arrears.
There is enough stock of feed till Monday when supplies will resume, said an official after talks with feed suppliers ended successfully. The official said that there was not a day that the animals went without being properly fed while admitting that the cost of upkeep of the animals was rising rapidly.
He pointed to the case of Rs. 7,000 worth of cattle feed needed daily for the animals. Their daily provisions comprise 1,560 kg of jack tree leaves; 1,560 kg of grass; 136 kg of green gram; 5.23 kg of mineral mix and 315 kg of cattle feed.
There are six elephants, 102 spotted and 112 sambar deer at the twin centres, which have acted as the rehabilitation centre of animals that have been rescued from different situations for over two decades. However, the department now finds it difficult to send these animals back to the forests.
Two veterinary doctors are stationed at Kodanad to keep tabs on the health of these animals. The Department of Forests has drawn up elaborate plans for the future, with one of them being a mini zoo.