With 60-year-old Kaleem, the legendary kumki of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, hanging up his boots on Tuesday after 99 successful operations, Chinnathambi, a young crop raider-turned-kumki, is likely to succeed him as the first among equals.
A kumki is a captive trained elephant, used in operations to help capture, calm or herd wild elephants.
Aged 29, Chinnathambi has already performed two successful operations to capture a makhna (tuskless male elephant), first from Dharmapuri and later from Coimbatore. “Going by physical features and the ability to grasp and execute commands, Chinnathambi is our first preference,” says Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) field director S. Ramasubramanian.
Though relatively young, Chinnathambi exhibited diligence and obedience during the recent capture of a makhna from Dharmapuri and the same elephant from Coimbatore [after it travelled over 100 km from Varagaliyar forests in the ATR where it was released after first capture],” he points out.
Calm and competent
The rookie has already worked with the veteran. Chinnathambi had his first field experience with Kaleem when he was taken to Kannivadi in Dindigul district to chase the wild elephants that stray into villages in April 2022. He was tasked for his first independent operation in February this year.
“Chinnathambi is undoubtedly a potential candidate to replace the place left vacant by Kaleem. This young kumki is highly tolerant to present situations as the animal himself was exposed to people, noise and other disturbances before his capture,” says N.S. Manoharan, a retired veterinarian who worked with the Forest Department for three decades.
When the makhna was captured for a second time from Perur near Coimbatore, the banana field was heavily crowded and noisy. “However, Chinnathambi seemed very calm and completed the task even though he was a rookie. The animal also has ideal physique and tusks for a kumki,” he notes.
Crop raiding background
Apart from the forest personnel, experienced mahouts (elephant handlers) also see a potential successor in Chinnathambi, who was himself a crop raider. He was captured from Kannadiputhur near Udumalpet at the age of 25 in 2019.
Kaleem’s mahout R. Mani has earlier said that Chinnathambi could be an ideal replacement when the former retired from the service. Continuous training and bonding with the animal were necessary to groom the young tusker into a trusted kumki, he had said.