Opinion divided over radio-collaring of crop raider elephant

‘The elephant was restless following continuous monitoring’

June 29, 2021 10:34 pm | Updated June 30, 2021 04:00 am IST - COIMBATORE

Wild elephant Baahubali using a trough inside forest near Mettupalayam.

Wild elephant Baahubali using a trough inside forest near Mettupalayam.

The Forest Department’s move to radio collar a crop raider tusker at the foothills of the Nilgiris near Mettupalayam town has created divided opinion among its staff, animal lovers and the public.

As in the case of Vinayagan and Chinnathambi, both crop raider elephants which were captured and translocated from Thadagam area near Coimbatore in 2018-19, Baahubali too is getting a fan base. Social media posts have started doing rounds against the radio-collaring of the elephant aged 35-40 years, naming it as a ‘harmless elephant’.

A senior official from the Department, who has been part of the efforts to tranquillise the elephant, shared a post in social media on Tuesday that heaped praises on Baahubali as an ‘elephant with various qualities’. The post said the elephant was harmless and it waited for vehicles to pass while crossing roads.

Some of the field staff of the Department, who have been monitoring the elephant, codenamed by the Department as ‘MP20T1, said they were not really convinced about the need to radio-collar the animal.

“His routine has been the same for years. It raids crops at night and returns to the forest very early in the morning. We have not heard of the elephant having attacked people or damaged properties like houses,” said a senior frontline worker who did not want to be named.

Another frontline worker told The Hindu the elephant was restless following continuous monitoring by the Department for several days and close monitoring on Sunday and Monday. At the end of the second day of the operation on Monday, District Forest Officer D. Venkatesh said the Department halted the efforts for 10 days so that the elephant could return to its normal routine.

Prior to starting the operation, the Department had said in a statement that the radio-collaring was for study purposes and to understand the migration pattern of elephants. However, Baahubali has been remaining largely in Mettupalayam and Sirumugai forest ranges for several years unlike other solitary tuskers that migrate long distances.

A veterinarian involved in the operation said the radio-collaring was mainly to track the elephant and do negative conditioning by chasing it back to forest continuously.

K. Kalidasan of environmental organisation ‘Osai’ said radio-collaring was a scientific method to monitor the elephant. “However, tranquillising the elephant for radio-collaring must be done with at most care on a plane landscape,” he said, recalling an incident wherein a 20-year-old elephant that was shot with a tranquilliser dart for radio-collaring was later found dead near Thadagam in 2011.

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