From emotional outpourings to crazy schemes: How Kerala social media is rooting for Arikomban

No other wild animal has won such a huge fan following despite attempts to project him as a killer elephant and troublemaker.

ByK A Shaji

Published Jun 07, 2023 | 12:00 PM Updated Jun 07, 2023 | 12:00 PM

Arikomban support on social media

Kerala-based lawyer and animal rights activist Sreejith Perumana heaved a sigh of relief late evening on Tuesday, 6 June, when the Tamil Nadu Forest Department released a video of the ration shop-raiding tusker Arikomban.

The video showed the rice-loving elephant standing close to the water-abundant Kothai river in the Agathiyamalai region of Kalakkad-Mudanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR).

“Here goes the visual of a thirsty Arikomban who struggles hard in the deserts of Tamil Nadu,” Sreejith sarcastically captioned the video while sharing it on Facebook.

Equally amusing was the soundbite he released along with the video.

A seemingly emotionally disturbed woman, presumably an ardent fan of Arikomban, is heard accusing the lawyer of supporting the forest officials of the neighbouring state, who had “conspired to translocate the tusker to an arid region where no fodder or water are available”.

Outpouring of love

Arikomban

Arikomban seen on the banks of Kothai river in Tamil Nadu after his second translocation to KMTR. (Supplied)

The woman alleged the whole operation to capture Arikomban from Cumbum and relocate it to KMTR was part of a larger conspiracy involving the chief ministers of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu that was aimed at supporting the “land mafia” in the state.

She called Sreejith a traitor who sacrificed the larger interests of the animal lovers of Kerala for dubious reasons.

​It was one among the numerous angry responses Sreejith has received since 5 June ​when he posted on social media that the area in which Arikomban was translocated comprised pristine Shola forests with perennial water sources and infinite feed.

He was also of the opinion that the Tamil Nadu government had done its best for the rehabilitation of Arikomban.

Though the wild tusker with a penchant for rice and jaggery was a victim of organised lies and adverse propaganda by “settler lobbies” and the “land mafia” while he was roaming around in his native forests of Chinnakanal in Kerala, there is an emotional outpouring of support for the 35-year-old pachyderm after his capture and release in the Periyar Tiger Reserve that borders Cumbum in Tamil Nadu.

Animal rights activists confirm that no other wild tusker has won such a huge fan following on social media apart, apart from prompting many to hold protests demanding Arikomban be brought back to his native Chinnakanal.

Growing support: Online and offline

Across the state, many marches involving activists, tribals and others have been held in solidarity with Arikomban — a portmanteau of two Malayalam words, ari, meaning rice, and komban, tusker — and condemning the political leadership for its insensitivity over the frequent capturing and relocation of the pachyderm.

“Why should he suffer in a distant and difficult geographic terrain while there are ample scope for him to return and unite with his herd in Chinnakanal? Only the land mafia there is targeting him,” said conservation activist MN Jayachandran, who coordinates pro-Arikomban activities on the ground at Arikomban’s erstwhile home.

“The local tribals in Chinnakanal repeatedly hold marches expressing their solidarity with Arikomban and demanding his return. The other day, there was a huge rally in front of Kerala Forest Department headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram demanding steps to bring him back. People are hurt at how the elephant was chased, captured and relocated twice for no fault of his,” Jayachandran told South First.

The activist also noted the huge support for the pachyderm — both online and offline.

“This is the first time that a wild elephant is causing such an emotional outpouring as more people now know that he roamed around only in his territory — and that it is humans who have encroached and occupied his home,” Jayachandran added.

Arikomban Elephant Kerala

Arikomban before being captured from Chinnakanal in Idukki. (Jomon Pampavalley)

Concern for Arikomban’s health

As soon as the news of Tamil Nadu forest officials darted Arikomban after he entered into a human settlement near Cumbum, Kerala’s social media was full of anxiety about his safety.

Many raised concerns over his health in the face of repeated tranquilisation attempts and forced relocations involving kumki, or trained, elephants.

The wound on his trunk, revealed in a photo issued by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department on 5 June, also elicited huge concern and calls for his return to Kerala.

According to social media observers, many WhatsApp groups have been formed, and people are engaging in distraught discussions on how to bring Arikomban back to his habitat in the state.

A public interest writ petition filed by Rebecca Joseph of Ernakulam before the Madurai bench of Madras High Court was the outcome of that larger move. However, the court slammed the petitioner for engaging in a “publicity stunt” and allowed Arikomban’s shifting to KMTR.

There have even been fund collection drives across the state so as to fund an approach to the Supreme Court, which has already considered the matter and left it to the authorities to do what is best for Arikomban..

Several people even volunteered on social media to visit KMTR — portrayed widely and falsely as a barren landscape with nothing to feed a wild elephant — with food, medicine, and water for Arikomban.

The hypnotist and his solution

The most interesting among the promised interventions on behalf of Arikomban was by a self-proclaimed wildlife biologist whose track record includes claims of having seen wildlife species that have been declared extinct.

This wildlife biologist claimed he has expertise in hypnotising wildlife, and if the court permits, he could hypnotise Arikomban and ensure his smooth return to Chinnakanal.

The expert’s appeal to get an experienced lawyer to push the case in the Madras High Court also found many takers.

The move was dropped only when somebody googled and found how wild elephants killed those who attempted to hypnotise them in foreign countries.

Backlash against anti-Arikomban lobby

Meanwhile, anti-wildlife elements, who had attempted to mobilise public opinion against Arikomban initially, have faced a backlash since his second capture.

VR Vinayaraj, a campaigner against crop-raiding elephants, was inundated with angry social media responses after he posted that Arikomban must be eliminated with “a single bullet” for the sake of the farming community.

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Arikomban roams around a tea estate in Munnar in the days he was captured. (Supplied)

His post was in the context of on Paulraj who was riding pillion on a two-wheeler in Cumbum and, on coming across Arikomban, fell, sustained injuries, and later died.

Across the state, anti-Arikomban social media opinion makers are now facing aggressive counter-attacks.

Even KB Ganesh Kumar, an MLA of the ruling LDF in Kerala and owner of a captured elephant, now faces cyber attacks for his adverse comments against Arikomban and the conservationists who support the elephant. The activists even accused him of mistreating the captured elephant in his custody.

“Please, all of you who scoff at the violence being done to a living being who we have drawn away from his wild existence out of sheer callousness and greed, which can only see the problem from the perspective of greed (and that is NOT the human perspective), can you kindly unfriend yourself? I have nothing to do with you,” noted academician and writer J Devika said on Facebook.

“I am with those who seek to protect him, however they can. They may seem laughable to you, but that is because you can’t imagine compassion beyond humans, and indeed, cannot imagine sentience beyond humans… and you don’t see that all living beings are connected.

“There has to be a better way of dealing with the consequences of constant human encroachment of the wild if we are to survive as a race,” Devika added.

Arikomban: ‘A powerful symbol of conservation’

According to animal rights activist Sreedevi S Kartha, no other wild elephant has ever won such huge admiration in Kerala.

“We were able to bust the organised lies and false propaganda against Arikomban, including the unsubstanstaited claim that he killed 14 people. There may be people who approach it as an emotional issue. Their perceptions may be faulty. But, altogether, Arikomban is now emerging as a powerful symbol of conservation. And he raises the pertinent question: Who has to be relocated? The elephant on its traditional corridor or the people who occupy it?” she told South First.

It seems the cyber platforms of mainstream political parties in Kerala, which had earlier targeted Arikomban as a killer and troublemaker, have also turned defensive.

The growing sympathy for the tusker over in Kerala society has started to worry them.