State needs trained elephants to check crop raiders

Kerala is hoping to obtain five kumki elephants (tamed and trained pachyderms) from its neighbour, Karnataka.

Kerala Forest officials have requested their counterparts in Karnataka to “donate” at least five trained elephants for restraining invading wild elephants in the State. Kerala has also sought the clearance of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for obtaining the pachyderms from Karnataka.

The service of kumki elephants is indispensible in restraining and sending back the animals that stray into farmlands and human settlements. Captive elephants are given intense training as kumki elephants. While Kerala doesn’t have enough number of trained animals, there are nearly 100 such animals in Karnataka, Forest officials said.

Kerala requested Karnataka to donate the animals as its trade is banned. The option of hiring these elephants will also be explored, said V. Gopinath, Chief Wildlife Warden, Kerala. Going by the indications, the Karnataka government may consider the State’s request positively. Besides the clearance of the Central Ministry, the approval of the High Court of Karnataka is also required as a case related to kumki elephants is pending before the court, he said.

Though there are around 500 captive elephants in the State, there is only one elephant—Soman— in Kerala which could perform the arduous tasks.

The lone kumki elephant is stationed at the Konni elephant camp of the Forest Department, according to a note prepared by the Forest department.

Elephant squad

The department is also in the process of forming an exclusive elephant squad for controlling the crop raiders and those that wander into human habitations. The squad, which will come up at Wayanad, will have 23 officials in it including a Forest range officer, two veterinary doctors and a deputy range officer. The service of the kumki elephants will be made available to the squad, which will be armed with tranquillizer guns, net guns, night vision equipment and a lorry modified for the transport of elephants.

Incidentally, a study by the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi, had revealed that 45 species of crops, including paddy, coconut palm, plantains, areca nut, coffee, oil palm, pepper, jackfruit trees and mango trees were targeted by wild animals. Besides elephants, gaur, sambhar, wild boar, bonnet macaque and peafowl regularly raided croplands.

Experts studying human-elephant conflict had recorded 36 incidents in Thrissur district during the past three years. E.A. Jayson and Suresh K. Govind of the institute had also reported that elephants damaged 1,990 plantain trees, 307 arecanut trees, 90 coconut trees and 225 rubber trees and other crops in the district during the study period.

Recently, the Kerala Cabinet decided to enhance the compensation for victims of human-animal conflicts. It was also proposed to enhance the compensation for crop loss.

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