With Forest Department attempting to once again capture Rivaldo, a wild elephant accustomed to living in close proximity to humans in the buffer zone of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR), activists and conservationists have questioned the rationale behind the move stating the animal poses no significant threat to humans in the region.
The forest officials confirmed that they were in the “advanced stages” of getting the approval of setting up a kraal (elephant shelter used to tame captive elephants) in Vazhaithottam in the MTR buffer zone for keeping it after capture.
“Earlier, we tried to lure Rivaldo into the Theppakadu Elephant Camp by providing him with food. However, he managed to escape and the option of capturing him by using kumkis and tranquilizers is very risky,” said a senior forest official. The decision was taken based on the forest veterinarian’s report, the official said adding that the plan now is to tame Rivaldo in Vazhaithottam. “We plan to set up the kraal there itself as that is his main habitat,” said the official.
Forest officials said that it was the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) that had represented to the Nilgiris Collector last August that Rivaldo should be removed and taken to the Theppakadu elephant camp to be re-homed in its own interest.
The effort to take it to the camp through guided walking failed after it developed musth and ran away after walking for nine out of the 15 kilometres. Now the health condition of the elephant warranted its capture and therefore it was decided to set up a kraal and not tranquilise it which could harm the elephant, the forest officials said.
However, the renewed efforts of the forest department to capture Rivaldo has been met with stiff resistance from conservationists, who state that the elephant poses no risk to humans. “The forest department is claiming to want to capture the elephant citing the killing of another elephant in the region, which died after illegal resort owners threw a burning projectile at the animal. However, this is no reason to capture a wild elephant that has no antecedent problematic interactions with humans, and is healthy with no injuries," said a conservationist from the Nilgiris.
In their 2016 paper, titled “Can a Wild Asian Elephant Change Its Interaction Patterns With Humans,” published in Gajah , authors Jean-Philippe Puyravaud, Shanti Puyravaud and Priya Davidar, who have had interactions with the elephant for the last 15-years, argue that Rivaldo can be weaned away from interacting with humans if concerted efforts are taken by the forest department to stop locals from feeding the animal.
Between 2013 and 2015, the researchers recorded the elephant’s visit to the area. Their findings point to the visits becoming shorter in 2015 due to people ceasing to feed the animal. “The trend we report here needs to be validated with further studies. It nevertheless carries the hope that Asian elephants are adaptable enough to change their behavior and go back to their natural feeding patterns after having been fed by humans,” the authors of the paper note.
The authors also note that following an injury to his trunk, Rivaldo was fed with fruits and medication by the forest department. After the feeding stopped and his injuries healed, the animal almost stopped venturing into human habitations in search of food.
However, weak implementation of the law regarding the ban on feeding wildlife and motives such as profit, superstition and sensationalism has resulted in continuous feeding, encouraging Rivaldo and some of his companions to venture into village interiors, they note.