Rogue elephant PT-7 captured in a ‘textbook operation’ in Palakkad

Chief Forest Veterinary Officer Arun Zachariah and team dart the elephant tranquiliser shots at its left neck region

January 22, 2023 08:19 pm | Updated January 27, 2023 12:32 pm IST - PALAKKAD

Rogue elephant PT-7 which was tranquilised at Dhoni forest in Palakkad on January 22, 2023.  Kumki elephants brought to capture it are seen.

Rogue elephant PT-7 which was tranquilised at Dhoni forest in Palakkad on January 22, 2023. Kumki elephants brought to capture it are seen. | Photo Credit: K.K. Mustafah

A rogue tusker that terrorised Dhoni and neighbouring villages in Palakkad for months on end was finally captured and confined in a kraal on Sunday.

Rogue elephant PT-7 inside the kraal at the Dhoni forest office on Sunday.

Rogue elephant PT-7 inside the kraal at the Dhoni forest office on Sunday. | Photo Credit: K.K. Mustafah

A 72-member forest team led by Chief Forest Veterinary Officer Arun Zachariah enslaved the wild beast codenamed PT-7 (Palakkad Tusker-7) in a textbook-like operation that lasted for eight hours.

Although the forest team had gone after PT-7 on Saturday, the elephant cleverly eluded them by retreating into an area inside the jungle with steep terrain. The team resumed their operation at 4.30 a.m. on Sunday and caught the tusker by tranquiliser darting.

Around 7 a.m.

As anticipated by Dr. Zachariah and team, PT-7 returned to the forest fringe on Saturday night. The animal was found in an open forest patch at Korma between Dhoni and Mundur at 6 a.m. Dr. Zachariah darted the tusker around 7 a.m. by using an anaesthetic cocktail of Xylazine and Ketamine.

“It was a textbook-like operation. Everything was perfect. Excellent teamwork and coordination, and the three kumkis too worked really well,” said Dr. Zachariah.

Surprise darting

Dr. Zachariah and team preferred the surprise darting method to chasing the animal. “Usually we hit the rump region. But we took PT-7 by darting at its left neck region. And the sedation lasted for seven hours,” said Dr. Zachariah, who had to top up the sedative five times.

In 30 minutes, the elephant was tranquilised. Using an excavator, a ramp was constructed at the site and a lorry was brought in to carry PT-7. Dr. Zachariah and team covered the eyes of the animal using a black dhoti as they did not want PT-7 to see the three kumkis. Water was also sprinkled on its head to prevent any reaction under the severe heat of Dhoni region.

By 12 noon, PT-7 was guided into the lorry with the help of kumkis Surendran, Vikram and Bharathan. When Bharathan and Vikram stood by the side of PT-7, Surendran did the main job of pushing him into the lorry.

At forest camp

The tusker was then brought to the Dhoni forest camp and then confined in a 15 ft x 15 ft kraal with the help of the three kumkis.

People of Dhoni were jubilant as their “enemy” was finally captured after repeated pleas and agitations. PT-7 had raided the farmlands and residential areas of Dhoni, Mayapuram, Mundur, Akathethara and Malampuzha frequently in the past several months. The tusker was considered the main villain as it attracted other elephants in its raids.

Effort lauded

Minister for Forests A.K. Saseendran congratulated the forest officials on capturing PT-7.

The Forest department took the decision to capture and tame PT-7 following pressure from the people. According to forest officials, the 20-year-old tusker had remained outside the forest more than 180 days in the past one year and destroyed farmlands at several areas. PT-7 was suspected to have been the elephant that trampled a 60-year-old man to death while he was on a morning walk along with his friends at Dhoni in July last year.

“PT-7 was responsible for more than 90% of the elephant conflicts in the region,” said Dr. Zachariah.

Although the Forest department had planned to capture PT-7 and translocate it to Wayanad, the idea was abandoned considering the risk involved in transporting the tusker under sedation. The kraal set up at Muthanga was used for the confinement of a rogue makhana captured in Wayanad a few weeks ago.

Eucalyptus kraal

A new kraal was built using eucalyptus logs at Dhoni a few days ago to put PT-7 in. With a six-foot deep foundation, the kraal was designed not only to withstand the wrath of the wild tusker but also to protect the animal from getting injured. The Forest department chose eucalyptus for the kraal largely because of its availability and its compressive strength. Heavy logs of kambakam (Hopea parviflora) were traditionally used for kraal making in the country. The shortage of kambakam, popularly known as the Iron Wood of Malabar, has prompted the Forest department to find an alternative in eucalyptus.

Like kambakam, eucalyptus too does not splinter on heavy impact. Because of its compressive character, eucalyptus prevents the wild elephant from getting injured when it hits the kraal. If it is teak or any other hardwood, the tusker will get injured.

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