Karnataka's lethargy ended up in elephant attack on Wayanad man, alleges Kerala forest officials

Belur Makhna attacks Ajeesh. Photo: CCTV/ Screengrab

Wayanad: The brutal killing of Panachiyil Ajeesh, 47, in Wayanad by the rogue elephant Belur Makhna brings to the fore the lack of coordination between the forest officials in the neighbouring states in dealing with the cross-border movement of problem animals including tigers and elephants. There was serious lethargy on the part of Karnataka's top forest officials in tracking technology transfer including sharing tracking passwords and user ID, exclusive tracking gadgets and frequency details of the problem elephant Belur Makhna to the Kerala counterparts despite repeated requests.

The officials one after another refused to hand over the antenna and receiver set tuned with the radio collar frequency fitted on the elephant for its speedy tracking. According to them, Wayanad which shares borders with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has been facing issues in inter-state coordination in dealing with such cases of human-animal conflicts.

Wayanad's jungles are adjacent to Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Nagarholle National Park, both in Karnataka and Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. Insiders say that it is an open secret among the forest department circles that the staff of all three states is too keen to release problem animals including tigers, leopards and elephants, far in the interior of forests close to the border which helps them reduce further threat by the animal in their zone.

A communiqué sourced by Onmanorama was widely circulated among the forest department personnel on Saturday soon after the tragic death of Ajeesh at Mananthavadi. It narrated the futile efforts taken by the forest department of the state to possess the exclusive technology from the Karnataka Forest Department to track the movement of the problem elephant Belur Makhna.

Karnataka took 4-days to hand over tracking ID and Password
According to the report, Belur Makhna was first spotted on January 5 at Muthanga. Soon the state forest department had contacted the Karnataka counterparts seeking the user ID and Password on the day itself. But the same was received only on January 9. Further tracking confirmed that the animal had returned to Bandipur forests in Karnataka. Again the movement of the radio-collared elephant was reported from Pathiri reserve near Pulppalli under the Chethalath Forest Range limits on February 2.

Image transferring delayed up to 5 to 8 hours
Though the forest staff attempted to track the elephant using the ID and password, the image transfer was delayed for 5 to 8 hours due to weak signals. By the time, the trackers reached the spot, the animal would have moved to another location which is a few kilometres away. In normal environmental conditions, elephants are in the habit of roaming in search of fodder covering a distance of 20-30 kilometres every day. The distance would be higher (up to 200 kms) during the migratory season, according to experts.

Karnataka repeatedly denied to provide tracking gadgets
A high-level meeting of Kerala forest personnel, held in the state had decided to request the Northern Circle Chief Conservator of Forests, Karnataka to hand over the exclusive tracking gadgets including the antenna and receiver to the Kerala team for tracking the animal. A letter regarding this was mailed from the Kerala Chief Wildlife Warden’s office on February 5. But this attempt also turned futile.

Moreover, the 5-member expert team that visited Ramagiri Elephant Camp in Bandipur in connection with the inquiry into the death of Thanneer Komban on February 8, had also requested the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Project Elephant, Karnataka) to hand over the gadgets for speedy tracking of the problem elephant which was released by the Karnataka forest department at Moolehalla near Muthanga, the Kerala border in October. However, the official refused the same and offered only training to Kerala staff in elephant tracking. When gadgets were provided by WWF office from Coimbatore, Karnataka refused to share frequency details.

Finally, it was the NGO, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which assisted in fixing the radio collar on the animal, that handed over the equipment which was brought to Mananthavadi from the WWF office in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu by 1: 30 am on February 10, the fatal day. But again the

Karnataka forest department refused to part with the radio frequency which is essential for tracking the elephant. It was only by 8:30 am, that the Karnataka forest department agreed to give the frequency details after considering Kerala's repeated requests. But, by this time Ajeesh had lost his life in the wild elephant attack. If the frequency details were transferred earlier, the death of Ajeesh could have been averted, says the communiqué. With more than 15 problem elephants radio-collared in Karnataka, it is high time the technology transfer on tracking to be made faster and easier, to avoid further tragedies, it was pointed out.

  • Timeline of Kerala's Mission Belur Makhna
    January 5- Requested for tracking ID and Password, received only on January 9
    February 2- Delay in tracking realized
    February 5- Request sent for handing over exclusive tracking gadgets
    February 8,9 -requests repeated
    February 10- Instruments sourced from WWF but frequency details denied
    February 10- 8 30 am- Frequency details received only after the death of Ajeesh
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