It took over 50 days, but forest officials on Sunday, 22 January, finally tracked down and tranquillised the rogue elephant codenamed PT-7 that had been terrorising people across Kerala’s Palakkad district.
PT-7, short for Palakkad Tusker-7, was traced to the fringes of the forest between the villages of Dhoni and Mundur by the team led by celebrated veterinarian Arun Zachariah at around 7.15 am on Sunday.
Soon after the elephant has shot with a tranquilliser dart, Zachariah’s 70-member team began the process of preparing it to be moved to a kraal, or a fenced enclosure, that has been set up near the forest office in Dhoni.
Around 8 am, the tusker was brought under anaesthesia. An earthmover was used to clear the path through the forest so that a lorry could reach the spot where PT-7 lay.
A pair of trained captive Kumki elephants were used to mount the tusker, now chained and blindfolded, onto the lorry.
PT-7 will be held in the kraal till a decision is taken on where it should be rehabilitated permanently.
The government, officials said, is yet to decide whether it should be handed over to a zoo or released into the forests somewhere else.
Operation and reaction
The elephant had been spotted on Saturday, but a mission to capture it was cancelled late in the evening as PT-7 was found camping on the steep slope of a hill.
Forest officials thought using tranquillising darts would prove to be risky as the elephant could collapse into the valley and die. The operation was finally launched at 4 am on Sunday when PT-7 came off the hill.
Across Palakkad, news of the elephant’s capture was received with relief and glee, with people even celebrating by bursting crackers.
For several months now, the tusker had been a terror for the people of the Dhoni, Malampuzha, Akathethara, and Puthupariyaram village panchayat areas.
Known for large-scale crop-raiding, PT-7 was also suspected of trampling to death a 60-year-old man on a morning walk in Dhoni in July last year.
He was also held responsible for more than 90 percent of the elephant-human conflicts reported in the eastern regions of Palakkad.
The initial plan, and new kraal
Initially, the Forest Department was in favour of translocating PT-7 to Wayanad after its capture. Especially as kraal had already been built to confine rogue makhanas captured locally in recent years at Muthanga in Wayanad.
The idea was, however, abandoned on the advice of experts that there was considerable risk in transporting a tusker under sedation over such a long distance.
Hence a new kraal was set up near Dhoni.
The new kraal, 15 feet by 15 feet and enclosed by a 18 ft high wooden fence, was set up at Dhoni just last week.
Built using eucalyptus trees and with a “six-foot deep foundation”, the kraal is designed to withstand the wrath of the wild tusker, apart from protecting the animal from injury.
According to forest officials, the tusker PT-7 spent about 180 days outside the forest in 2022 alone, engaging largely in crop-raiding.
PT-7 is estimated to be aged between 20 and 25 years. He is medium-sized, but is described as very aggressive. The department hopes to train it as a Kumki elephant.
Officers said the rogue elephant attracted other tuskers and moved around in villages close to the Dhoni forests, causing havoc in fields.
Officials said PT-7 was the most mischievous among the trouble-making wild animals that have created headlines in recent years.
But Kerala has had a few other elephants that also caught public attention.
Padayappa of Munnar is a similar tusker known for smashing vehicles and damaging buildings. As recently as 20 January, it smashed two autorickshaws, and there is a considerable pressure from the local population to to trap and capture it.
Padayappa has been moving in and around Munnar for several years now, spreading terror.
Pandalur Makhna -2, or PM-2, a tuskless male elephant that belonged to the Nilgiri forests in Tamil Nadu, was recently captured from Sultan Bathery in Wayanad. PM-2 also had a long history of troublemaking.
Other than these recent incidents of tracking and capturing rogue wild elephants, the mission to capture tusker Kallur Komban from the Wayanad forests in November 2016 had become a matter of substantial public interest.
Nicknamed Bharathan SI by the local people after a policeman who worked in the locality years ago, the tusker was known for damaging standing crops and causing trouble. He was also captured and relocated.