Arikomban released again, this time in the upper reaches of Kodayar in Kanniyakumari

The operation to capture and translocate Arikomban was launched on 27 May, by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jun 06, 2023 | 1:39 PMUpdatedJun 06, 2023 | 1:39 PM


Following an overnight journey in a specially designed ambulance, Arikomban was freed in the forest of upper Kodayar in Tamil Nadu’s Kanniyakumari district bordering Kerala.

Arikomban is a portmanteau of the Malayalam words Ari, meaning rice, and Komban, meaning tusker.

“The elephant’s health is fine, and his new habitat would ensure him plenty of water and good fodder”, a senior Forest Department official said on Tuesday, 6 June.

“Arikomban was released in the upper reach of Kodayar this morning. His health is absolutely fine,” Tamil Nadu Chief Wildlife Warden Srinivas R Reddy told PTI.

Arikomban was initially translocated by the Kerala Forest Department on 29 April. The tusker was shifted from Chinnakanal to the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) — some 105 km from his home and herd.

An elephant with short tusks, a stout physique, and a broad cranium, Arikomban, aged about 35, was known to raid local ration shops and kitchens of houses to feed on jaggery, salt, and, of course, his favourite rice.

Also Read: In defence of Arikomban — the ration-​shop raider of Munnar

Arikomban in Cumbum

On 26 May, Arikomban ambled into the outskirts of Cumbum taluk, sparking a belief in Kerala that it was returning home to its herd. But that was not the case. It did not cross Mathikettan Shola, as was widely anticipated.

A team of five veterinarians under Dr Kalaivanan was deputed to monitor the tusker’s health. Further, 23 elephant trackers were deployed to monitor its movements.

On 28 May, Arikomban moved to the Koothanachi reserve forest, and the forest officials prevented the elephant from entering a human habitat.

However, the next day, it entered Cumbum town. A 56-year-old man, Balraj, who fell from his two-wheeler while fleeing the elephant, suffered head injuries. He died on 30 May.

Also read: Arikomban wreaks havoc in Cumbum in TN

TN Forest Department’s efforts

The operation to capture and translocate Arikomban was launched on 27 May, by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department.

The injury on the trunk of Arikomban (Supplied)

The injury on the trunk of Arikomban (Supplied)

The Tamil Nadu Forest Department tranquilised Arikomban when the animal had strayed into the village.

It ran some 100m after being hit by the first dart and slowly went into sedation. Forest officials bound its legs, brought in three kumki elephants, and ferried it out of the village.

After he was tranquilised with two darts and captured on the morning of 5 June, by the team of Forest Department officials and veterinarians, Arikomban was provided treatment initially.

He was made to board the specially designed ambulance with the help of Kumkis and travelled about 300 km from the hilly Theni district, where he was captured.

En route on his journey through Madurai and Tirunelveli districts, he was given a shower to keep him cool in the sweltering summer.

A section of the people in Tirunelveli district staged a protest on 5 June, against an alleged move by the Forest Department to release the elephant into the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

Asked about the concerns of the people that the elephant might stray into human habitations, a forest official replied: “He has been left in the deep forest close to a waterbody with good fodder availability. Let’s hope he will not stray into habitation again.”

Also read: Saga of rice-loving tusker Arikomban continues

Court case

A Kerala-based animal rights activist Rebecca Joseph filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Madurai Bench of the High Court of Madras.

The petitioner requested an order to return the elephant to Kerala to facilitate treatment of its injuries. She contended that the elephant was ill.

During the hearing, the court directed the Tamil Nadu Forest Department not to release Arikomban into the forest on Monday, 5 June.

However, in the afternoon, the Forest Department officials explained the scenario to the court that the elephant had already been captured and transited to KMTR (Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve).

Recording this, and taking into account of the elephant’s health, the court allowed the Forest Department to release the elephant on Monday itself at the designated place at KTMR.

The case was postponed to Tuesday, 6 June, for further hearing.

Also read: Arikomban captured and relocated after month-long drama

Mission Arikomban in Kerala

The pachyderm was captured in Kerala on 29 April, in what was called “Mission Arikomban”. The rice-thieving tusker was subdued with tranquillisers and relocated to the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

The elephant, with a penchant for rice, remained elusive till early morning on 29 April, despite large-scale arrangements to capture him.

The preparations included a dummy ration shop, four kumkis (trained elephants), and eight teams of more than 30 elephant experts.

Noted forest veterinarian Arun Zakaria coordinated the efforts. According to officials, Arikomban was captured after administering tranquilliser darts five times.

(With PTI inputs)