The shocking death of Thanneer Komban, who was tranquilized and captured by Kerala forest authorities in the border district of Wayanad before being sent to the Ramapura elephant camp in the Bandipur tiger reserve in neighboring Karnataka, has raised many questions begging for answers.
Many thought a burial was given, but the prisoner’s body was offered to the vultures by local authorities. It appears that vultures can feast on prey for three whole days and wildlife experts say that vultures from as far away as Wayand will fly in to join the party at the Vulture Restaurant, a facility created to support the dwindling vulture population.
In other words, the vulture restaurant is a feeding ground to provide uncontaminated food for the conservation of the dwindling vulture species. The idea is to prevent vultures from devouring carcasses containing harmful chemicals or drugs that would once again endanger the dwindling species.
Forest authorities and conservationists bring carcasses of wild animals that die in accidents or after being electrocuted to feed the vultures. Animals that die from diseases are not placed in the Vulture Restaurant.
Many bullets were found in Thanneer Komban’s body, indicating that compressed air weapons may have been used to prevent the prey from running amok in densely populated areas where it strayed.
The wounds on the left thigh may also have been caused by the pellets from the air gun, wildlife experts say.
Problems in Karnataka
Before wreaking havoc in Wayanad, Kerala, Thanneer Komban also went berserk in many parts of Karnataka, triggering an uproar among the local people against the forest authorities.
Even before the forest authorities come ashore to assess the situation, locals resort to firing compressed air guns and even using crackers to dissuade the elephant from disturbing their families adjacent to the forest areas.
Thanneer Komban was obviously injured in many of these unsolicited raids on crowded human habitations. Wildlife experts also feel that Thanneer Komban has difficulty maintaining its natural ecosystem within the forest, which is why it turned up in Wayanad days after it was released into the forests of Karnataka.
Forest authorities received a tip-off a day before reaching Wayanad that he had been sighted at Chirakkara in Mananthavady municipal limits at around 10:30 pm.
The radio-collared troublesome tusk was seen in the company of two other elephants there.
Forest officials followed the quarry until it reached Chuttakadavu via Kaniyaram and Palakuli.
But the elephant managed to escape from the vicinity of forest officials under the cover of morning fog at around 5am.
He then probably swam across the river to reach Mananthavady at around 7:30 am.
If the elephant had been followed closely and its path meticulously followed, the unwarranted situation of getting lost in the city and being tranquilized could have been avoided, according to some wildlife conservationists.
There are clear rules for dealing with rogue prey that strays into human habitation. Wildlife enthusiasts have already petitioned the wildlife division of the Union Forest Ministry that such norms for tranquilizing and capturing prey are being blatantly flouted in many cases.
In the case of Thanneer Komban, the main accusation against the wildlife authorities was that he was not given enough water to drink.
But before being mounted on a wildlife ambulance to shift him to Bandipur Tiger Reserve, he was given 35 liters of water, officials involved in the operation said.
The timing of the tranquilizing injection was another bone of contention. Experts say that although the ideal time is 5 am, when the dart was thrown it was almost five in the afternoon.
Wildlife officials counter this claim by pointing out that the sanction for shooting the elephant came late. They also pointed out that the elephant needs to be in a safe zone before it can be shot and was therefore delayed.
‘Friends’ by Thanneer Komban
Thanneer Komban along with another tusk and a Mozha, or tuskless elephant, were first sighted on February 1.
At around 11 pm, the elephants reached Godavari in Tavinjaal panchayat.
It was from here that wildlife authorities managed to chase Thanneer’s accomplices into the desert. When they spotted a radio collar on top of the tusk, they alerted the Rapid Response Team.
From that time until morning, seven officers of the Begur range tried every trick to drive away Thanneer Komban, but without success. Forest authorities expect the escaped prey to return any moment and patrol teams maintain a strict 24-hour vigil.
Before Thanneer Komban, it was Arikomban who made life difficult in the mountainous forest ranges of Kerala. The only similarity between the two is that they are fangs. However, these elephants had different modus operandi and behavior patterns.
Arikomban went crazy and threw three people into the air, and one of them succumbed to death. But Thanneer Komban avoided attacking any human being or causing havoc, although he roamed the city causing panic. He did not attack vehicles or cause harm to travelers.
Although there were many banana trees in the vicinity of the Thanneer Komban track, it did not cause any damage. The only damage he caused to the banana trees was when he ran away after being chased away by the crowd while bursting crackers.
But as wild animals can react sharply at any time despite normally being quiet, this is the reason why a sanction was issued to tranquilize the elephant and capture it, before such an eventuality could create problems in human habitats.
Arikomban is almost thirty years old and Thanneer Komban is estimated to be 25. Thanneer Komban was born in Belur in Hassan, Karnataka. After growing up, Thanneer Komban chose the coffee plantations in Hassan as his area of activity. But Arikomban was spotted in Chinnakanal when he was just a year old along with his elephant mother, locals claim. Arikomban wreaked havoc in the region and caused the death of seven people when he ventured to eat rice, a weakness detected in his behavior.
According to a forest department report submitted to the Kerala High Court, Arikoban damaged 180 buildings in 18 years by unleashing his rampage. Thanneer Komban, on the other hand, has no such “criminal records”. He often just breaks pipes in coffee plantations to enjoy the flow of water. Arikomban is now in “penance” in the forests near the Kothayar dam in Tamil Nadu, while Thanneer Komban’s lifeless body is feasted on at the Vulture Restaurant.