Everything you need to know on kumki elephants

Kumki elephants Vikram and Surya. Photo : Reju Arnold/Manorama

Thodupuzha: Recently two kumki elephants Vikram and Surya joined forces to capture 'Arikomban', the rice loving rogue elephant in Idukki.

Kumki elephants are elephants trained to capture and tame wild elephants. Elephant calves that are separated from the herd in the forest and captured wild elephants are tamed and trained to become Kumki elephants. The training period is three years.

The wild elephant, captured by tranquilising, is put up in a wooden enclosure. In the initial days following the capture, the wild elephant would try to tear down the enclosure. Two mahouts will be given the charge of the jumbo.

Once the elephant begins to calm down, training will be started. Initially, some basic commands would be given. If the elephant obeys, it would be fed sugarcane or jaggery. Then the mahouts would form a bond with the elephant. Subsequently, the elephant will be let out from the enclosure and expert training would start. The training will go on for up to three years, under the supervision of doctors and forest officers.

The elephant will be allowed to mingle with other elephants. This would also help prevent the elephant from getting frightened on seeing the wild tusker. In the next stage, the elephant would be reintroduced to the forest by going on a trip with the mahout.

In the last stage of training, the elephant is sent to the forest on its own. Once it returns, the jumbo would be a trained Kumki elephant.

After training, the elephants join the 'Kumki service’ and are government servants until the age of 60. After retiring at 60 years, the elephants can relax at any elephant sanctuary in Kerala, occasionally greeting tourists.

Kumki elephants are usually used to chase the wild elephants, that stray into human habitats, back into the forest. The services of Kumki elephants are also utilised to rescue wounded elephants, and to lend support to the wild elephants that have difficulty standing. The Kumki elephants also turn up as the saviours of tuskers that get stuck in a ditch or a swamp. Finally, the Kumki elephants are also the 'caretakers' of wild elephants that are tranquilised.

Training at Muthanga camp
The sole training camp for Kumki elephants in Kerala is at Muthanga in Wayanad. Earlier, the elephants from Kerala were taken to Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu for training. The three elephants ‘Konni Surendran’, ‘Kodanad Neelakandan’ and ‘Surya’ were first trained at Mudumalai. Around Rs 18 lakh was spent on the three-month training. Later, it was decided to train Kumki elephants at Muthanga itself with the help of trained mahouts and these three elephants. Four Kumki elephants from Muthanga were taken to Idukki.

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