Mudumalai Tiger Reserve: Wild Tusker released to the wild. Photograph:( WION )
On being captured, Rivaldo was put into a ‘kraal’ (a wooden log enclosure specially made for treating elephants). Generally, elephants that are put into a kraal are trained and domesticated for use as semi-wild elephants.
In a significant development, ‘Rivaldo’, a wild tusker that had been under captive treatment at a camp in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, was released into the jungle during the wee hours of Monday. Nearly three months ago, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department captured the elephant, as it kept venturing into human habitations in search of food. It was suspected that the elephant had an injury, which prevented it from feeding in the wild.
The Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, located in the ecologically sensitive Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu, is at the tri-junction of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. It is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Animals such as tigers, leopards, elephants, Indian Gaur (bison), and sloth bears are often sighted at the reserve.
On being captured, Rivaldo was put into a ‘kraal’ (a wooden log enclosure specially made for treating elephants). Generally, elephants that are put into a kraal are trained and domesticated for use as semi-wild elephants. They are either placed in forest department-run camps -as safari elephants or as Kumki elephants (trained elephants used to tame/control other elephants). Being put in a Kraal has often meant the end of a wild elephant’s natural way of life.
In this case, based on input from multiple committees and expert opinion, it was decided to rehabilitate the tusker into a suitable location in the wild. Based on the discussions and plans drawn up over the last 25 days, a team from the Forest Department transferred the elephant from the kraal to a customised vehicle. The operation, which began at 3 am on Monday, involved moving the truck-borne elephant slowly to an ideal location (a journey of nearly 35kms), with adequate safety measures in place.
According to Supriya Sahu, IAS, Principal Secretary, Environment and Forests, TN, the radio-collared tusker was released into the wild at around 9:30 am. "We have used a German-made radio collar that is linked with satellites to provide hourly location updates on the elephant. Our monitoring centre gets the signal every hour and we get to know how far he has travelled and the exact location. This helps ensure the tuskers' safety and tracks their movement in the wild, " she added.
Officials had to follow multiple procedures and protocols to ensure that the captive wild tusker was suitably and comfortably rehabilitated. It began with a crucial medical examination to determine whether the tusker required further treatment or whether it had to be held captive permanently or whether it could be released back into its natural habitat.
"An 8-member expert committee formed for this purpose told us that the elephant was fine, no further treatment was required. It was also added that there was no reason to keep it in a camp. We then formed multiple committees to work on the scientific methods of rehabilitation, such as -treatment, collaring, tracking, etc." said Tamil Nadu Chief Wildlife Warden Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, IFS. He added that it was a sensitive operation involving 100 staffers of the department, hence necessitating that it be kept away from public glare.
Referring to the possibility of similar rehabilitation efforts for other captive elephants, Mrs Supriya Sahu said that the department would make its best efforts to get captive animals back to the wild, as they can not be forced to live in an artificial setting. "In Karnataka, they rehabilitated a wild elephant that had been in captivity for a very long time. Likewise, we will analyse the parameters and see what is possible. We are open to the idea, "she said, expressing confidence.
She assured meticulous, scientific decision-making that would keep animal welfare the utmost priority. She also revealed that man-animal conflict had come to an all-time low during the COVID-19 lockdowns, as people were confined to their homes. Regarding the two-pronged approach to wildlife management, she said that scaling-up of rescue-treatment-rehab facilities for animals was underway, besides the awareness drives for the local populace.