When a jumbo lost touch with its wild side (Tamil Nadu, India)


Rohan Premkumar, The Hindu

Date Published

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‘Rivaldo’ is so dependent on humans that opinion is divided on how to deal with it

A wild elephant, known to most Masinagudi locals as ‘Rivaldo,’ continues to live perilously close to human habitations, relying on food offered to it by locals and the tourists.

The animal, which used to be fed by a self-styled local conservationist who ran a resort in the area, has lost its fear of humans and roams the roads in Masinagudi.

C. Badrasamy, a former District Forest Officer in the Nilgiris, told The Hinduthat the conservationist responsible for “taming” Rivaldo treated the animal for injuries it suffered, when a portion of its trunk was cut with a sharp object in 2013, rendering it unable to pick up fodder.

As the animal became increasingly dependent on humans, it began roaming the areas near Masinagudi, which led to many tourist resorts taking advantage of the situation, often leaving food and salt for Rivaldo to feast on. As the animal got more habituated to human surroundings, the Forest Department sent a proposal to the government to capture the animal and turn it into a camp elephant at Theppakadu. “However, WWF-India and relatives of the conservationist objected to the proposal,” Mr. Badrasamy said.

“There are resort owners who are profiting from exploiting the animal. Conservationists claim that it is a breeding bull, less than 30 years of age. But Rivaldo has become so habituated to humans that he backs away from fights with male elephants, and I doubt that he is actually mating with females,” Mr. Badrasamy said.

D. Boominathan, landscape co-ordinator for WWF-India, said that it would be erroneous to capture and tame Rivaldo. “Already, the number of male elephants in the wild is very low due to a variety of factors like poaching and conflict,” he said. “Once this elephant is captured, he will no longer breed, and that is a huge loss to the elephant population,” he added.

Mr. Boominathan said that Rivaldo was not completely dependent on humans for his survival. “He still roams about, looking for fodder in the forests. The Forest Department must ensure that humans stop feeding him, and gradually wean him off the food he gets from people.”

Rivaldo is reported to go missing for a couple of months every year, hinting that he may be migrating in search of mates, he added.

Masinagudi locals said that the animal gets biscuits and crisps from passing tourists, and some even click selfies with the animal.