The controversy over ‘pygmy elephant’ is raging even as an animal, which many believe is a pygmy, has landed in the custody of the Kerala Forest Department.
A team of forest veterinarians has tethered the animal at Paruthypally in Trivandrum Forest Division. Blood samples of the animal have also been collected, which could be used for settling the controversy.
Members of the Kani tribe in the Peppara forest area believe that elephants belonging to a dwarf race inhabit the Agasthyarkudam forest area. Sali Palode, a wildlife photographer, who claimed to have photographed the animal some five years ago, had recently captured the video images of a small tusker from Peppara.
Scientific studies had earlier confirmed the presence of genetically distinct type of the Asian elephants in Borneo Island. These elephants were smaller in size than its Asian cousins. The World Wildlife Fund website describes Borneo elephants as ones which are “baby-faced with oversized ears, plump bellies and tails so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk. They are also more gentle-natured than their Asian elephant counterparts.”
With the tethering of the animal at Peppara, Mr. Palode has raised the demand for a DNA profiling of the animal to ascertain its genetic character. “We firmly believe that pygmy elephants (Kallana in local parlance) do exist in the area, which can be confirmed through DNA tests,” he said.
However, the Forest officials dismissed the demand as they were convinced that it was not a pygmy elephant as believed by some people.
V. Gopinath, Chief Wildlife Warden, Kerala, said such a myth existed in the folklore of tribespeople alone.
The animal found at Peppara was shifted to a temporary enclosure in the forest itself after it was found in a weak condition. The Forest officials had been tracking it for few days and it seemed that the animal had developed infections. The herd might have abandoned the sick animal. If the calf cannot be rehabilitated, it will be shifted to an animal care centre of the department, Mr. Gopinath said.
R. Sreejith, a veterinary surgeon in the team looking after the animal, said the elephant was found in a dehydrated condition in the forests. It is a 6-year-old male calf elephant and it does not belong to the species of dwarf elephants. The condition of the animal has stabilised after it was administrated fluids. It has started eating fruits. The animal was fed with plantains, pineapple and fodder, he said.
The World Wildlife Fund website says the “DNA evidence proved these elephants were isolated about 300,000 years ago from their cousins on mainland Asia and Sumatra. Over time, they became smaller with relatively larger ears, longer tails and straighter tusks. Today, the pygmy elephants of Borneo are the smallest elephants in Asia,” according to the website.