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PT-7 eludes forest team; darting operation to resume early today

January 21, 2023 10:16 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 09:53 am IST - PALAKKAD

Palakkad District Congress Committee president A. Thankappan inaugurates a march in front of the divisional forest office Olavakkode in Palakkad on Saturday in protest against wild animal raids on human habitats and buffer zone issues.

Palakkad District Congress Committee president A. Thankappan inaugurates a march in front of the divisional forest office Olavakkode in Palakkad on Saturday in protest against wild animal raids on human habitats and buffer zone issues. | Photo Credit: K. K. MUSTAFAH

Dhoni’s rogue elephant codenamed PT-7 (Palakkad Tusker-7) eluded the darting team on Saturday as a large forest force led by Chief Forest Veterinary Officer Arun Zachariah went after the 20-year-old tusker that has been terrorizing Dhoni and neighbouring regions for the past many months.

The operation to capture PT-7 began around 4 a.m. on Saturday with a tracking team going after the elephant, followed by the team of Dr. Zachariah, his colleagues and the forest staff providing logistical support. Three kumkis named Surendran, Bharathan and Vikram too joined the mission.

When the tracking team located PT-7, it was in the company of another tusker. Soon the two tuskers parted ways, and PT-7 began to retreat deep into Dhoni forest, with a six dozen-strong forest team moving cautiously on its trail. The forest team suspended the day’s operation as the elephant went about eight kms into the forest having a difficult terrain.

“We could not use the tranquilizer dart as the elephant kept moving on a steep terrain, where vehicle cannot be accessed,” said Dr. Zachariah. The forest team was about 100 metres behind the elephant. Dr. Zachariah said that PT-7 kept moving on its regular track and it never turned back or ran.

“We were careful not to provoke the elephant at all because we needed him tomorrow,” said Dr. Zachariah. “We decided to call it a day by 3 p.m.”

Some forest officials who were part of the team said that PT-7, sensing the presence of the kumki elephants, had cleverly moved onto a steep terrain where capturing it was so difficult. Scorching heat of the region also hampered the operation.

The team will resume its operation at 4 a.m. on Sunday. Dr. Zachariah said that he expected the tusker to come to the forest fringe on Saturday night. “That’s my personal feeling after observing the behavior of PT-7,” he said.

A posse of police personnel was also deployed at Dhoni considering the size and significance of the operation. The people of Dhoni, Mayapuram, Mundur, Akathethara and Malampuzha areas have been living in terror for months on end as PT-7 raided their farmlands and residential areas. The elephant destroyed a portion of paddy at Dhoni even on Friday night.

Figures available with the Forest Department show that PT-7 remained out of the forest for more than 180 days of the last one year. “PT-7 was responsible for more than 90 per cent of the elephant conflicts in the region,” said Dr. Zachariah.

Acting like a leader, PT-7, presumably 20 years old, used to attract other elephants also in its frequent raids. PT-7 was suspected to be the elephant that trampled a 60-year-old man to death at Dhoni in July last year. Following persistent demand from the people, the Forest authorities decided to capture and tame PT-7.

Once captured, it will be put in a kraal for taming. By taming it, PT-7 will be converted into a kumki elephant that can be used for helping the forest staff.

Although a kraal was set up last month at Muthanga in Wayanad with the intention of translocating PT-7 after its capture, the Forest Department changed its plans when a makhana elephant had begun to rampage Sulthan Bathery and neighbouring areas. The makhana was caught two weeks ago and confined in the Muthanga kraal.

A fresh kraal was set up at Dhoni for the confinement of PT-7. More than seven dozen eucalyptus trees were cut down to build the kraal that measures 18 ft in height and 15 ft in length and width. With a six foot deep foundation, the kraal is designed in such a way as not only to withstand the wrath of the wild tusker, but also to protect the animal from getting injured.

The Forest Department turned to eucalyptus for building the kraal not only because of the availability of the straight, large trees, but also because of 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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