A rice-loving wild elephant that raids ration shops drives residents of Kerala village up the wall

With ‘Arikompan’ regularly feasting on rice, sugar, and wheat from ration shops, the Santhanpara grama panchayat has written to the Forest Minister and the Chief Wildlife Warden demanding that the animal be shifted from the region immediately

January 21, 2023 10:32 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:13 am IST - IDUKKI

The rogue tusker ‘Arikompan’ at a plantation in Cement Palam near Santhanpara panchayat in Kerala’s Idukki district.

The rogue tusker ‘Arikompan’ at a plantation in Cement Palam near Santhanpara panchayat in Kerala’s Idukki district.

A rogue tusker named ‘Arikompan’ that regularly raids ration shops and eats provisions is presenting sleepless nights to the residents of Santhanpara in Idukki district. According to local people, the tusker has attacked a ration shop around 10 times in the past one-and-a-half years. Now, the Santhanpara grama panchayat has demanded that the government capture the tusker immediately.

Antony P.L., who runs the ration shop at Panniyar that is particularly favoured by Arikompan, says in each attack, the tusker eats atta, rice, sugar, and wheat. There is a distinct preference for rice, and hence the name Arikompan (ari is rice, and kompan means tusker). “The shop is in an old estate building. Over 500 ration cardholders, including families from two tribal settlements, depend on the shop to get food items. The elephant would attack any time. I am reluctant to keep the shop open in the evenings,” says Mr. Antony. His shop came under attack at 4 a.m. on Saturday. The casualty was two full sacks of rice.

People, houses in peril

Santhanpara panchayat president Liju Varghese says the panchayat has written to Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran and the Chief Wildlife Warden demanding steps to shift the tusker from the region immediately. “The tusker has destroyed over 60 houses in the panchayat and killed nearly 10 people under the Devikulam range over the years,“ says Mr. Varghese.

Elephant expert P.S. Essa says the undulating terrain and presence of the Anayirankal reservoir in the vicinity is a big hurdle to capturing the tusker. “If the elephant enters the water after being tranquilised, it is in danger of drowning,” says Mr. Essa. The terrain is dotted with small hills and a sedated elephant can fall to its death from such a mound.

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A senior Forest department official confirms the threat posed by the tusker to the local people. “The final decision of capturing it can be taken only at the government level,” says the official.

Failed attempt

It was in July 2017 that the Forest department first tried to capture Arikompan from Anayirankal. The forest officials and veterinary doctor spotted the elephant, and tranquiliser darts were fired at it thrice. However, the animal could not be sedated and hence, could not be fitted with the radio collar. The animal returned to the forest and the team discontinued the mission. In 2018, the Chief Wildlife Warden issued an order to capture the tusker, but it was cancelled after a spell of bad weather, sources say.

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