Murthy’s jumbo journey: From rogue killer to refined kumki (Kerala, India)


P Oppili|, Times of India

Date Published


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In the 1990s Murthy was a terror. He killed at least 20 people in Kerala’s Wayanad and was a nightmare for residents of the nearby areas. But soon after the Kerala government declared him a ‘killer’, he migrated to the Gudalur forest division in the Nilgiris. Well, the Murthy in question is not another forest brigand, but a Makhna (male elephant without tusks).

Murthy was captured by the forest department in July 1998 and sent to the Mudumalai elephant camp for rehabilitation. Today, Murthy is an obedient and veterinarian-friendly elephant in the state.

Narrating the capture of the nine-foot tall makhna, kavadi (assistant to mahout) M Thirumaran said soon after the Kerala government issued a ‘shoot at sight’ order against Murthy in June 1998, sensing danger, he quietly sneaked into Thevar Solai area in the neighbouring Gudalur forests in the Nilgiris. But in Gudalur, Murthy attacked a youth and the agitated locals in a sign of protest gheraoed the then district forest officer of Gudalur and kept him under house arrest. It was only after authorities assured villagers that the pachyderm will be captured, the locals released the officer.

PR Mani, former senior veterinary livestock supervisor who tranquilised the animal on July 12, 1998 during a rescue operation, said his team waited in a house in the Thevar Solai area the night before the capture. “The elephant was hungry for days and we left jackfruits all along the road in the village. Murthy came out of the bushes and started eating the jackfruits. I started shooting the darts, realizing it was just the right time to do it. The animal fell unconscious after running for about 500 metres and it took us three days to bring him to the Mudumalai camp,” he says.

The change of place did not bring any transformation in Murthy’s temper and on his first day in Mudumalai he damaged the krawal (a wooden enclosure), he was kept in. Authorities had to keep Murthy chained at all times due to his violent behaviour and the bondage resulted in wounds on his front and hind legs, which in turn hampered his training.

During that time, the forest department also faced flak for chaining the animal after a foreign animal-welfare activist took videos of a wounded Murthy and screened it in the US.

But Murthy started mellowing once the training started, says his mahout Thirumaran. “Now, he is one of the most friendly elephants in the Mudumali camp. Even strangers can take the animal for a walk and come back to the camp without a scratch,” he says.

Having sustained injuries all over his body due to constant chaining, a changed Murthy even started cooperating with vets during his medication process. Veterinarian N Kalaivan who treated Murthy for its wounds, says his team was unable to believe that this was the same animal which had killed 28 people in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. “Most of the time when injections had to be administered to Murthy, instead of creating a ruckus, he would bend his leg to facilitate the work for vets. In fact, we recently removed pellets from his body and he couldn’t have been more cooperative,” says Kalaivan.

Fit and healthy at 49, Murthy has also been trained as a ‘kumki’ elephant and assists forest officials in capturing wild elephants that stray into human habitation.