India's "killer" elephant, Arikomban, has been relocated to a tiger reserve

Officials in the southern Indian state of Kerala have relocated Arikomban, a wild elephant known for raiding local shops for rice and allegedly killing seven people, to a tiger reserve following a legal battle and public debate.

For months, locals living near Arikomban’s original habitat had been demanding his relocation. Finally, on Saturday, the wild elephant was tranquilized and moved to Periyar Tiger Reserve, which is approximately 80km (49.7 miles) away.

The government has declared the relocation of Arikomban a success, stating that they are monitoring his movements and have received signals from the radio collar attached to him.

Activists argue that the controversy surrounding Arikomban highlights the broader problem of human-wildlife conflict, which cannot be addressed by simply relocating one animal. India is home to nearly 30,000 wild elephants, which represent approximately 60% of all wild Asian elephants, and the loss of their habitats often forces them to enter human areas and damage crops, leading to conflicts.

Arikomban, estimated to be over 30 years old, had been a familiar presence for residents near the Devikulam forest range in Idukki district for decades. However, as the area’s population grew and houses made of concrete became more prevalent, the elephant began causing damage to buildings and having confrontations with people, leading to local protests.

MN Jayachandran, a conservationist, questioned the state forest department’s plan to capture and train Arikomban as a captive elephant, asking how they could continue to do so for all elephants.

In Kerala, where hundreds of captive elephants are leased out for temple festivals and other events, activists have long been raising awareness about their mistreatment.

A five-member committee formed by the high court recommended capturing and relocating Arikomban to an area with less chance of human conflict. This followed protests by activists against making him a trained captive elephant. However, locals protested the initial suggestion of moving him to the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Palakkad district.

The Kerala government appealed to the Supreme Court against the high court’s order to relocate Arikomban, but the top court declined to intervene.

The government launched a large-scale operation involving a task force of 150 officials to track and capture the elephant, while also searching for alternative relocation sites.

Arikomban was tranquilized, captured, and moved to Periyar Tiger Reserve after a two-day operation. Authorities had imposed a curfew and deployed police personnel in case of protests, but the elephant’s arrival was greeted with cheers.

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By Ryan

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