Living in harmony with elephants

Living in harmony with elephants

Weary after a sunny day’s outing at Munnar’s Mattupetty Dam, Cowboy Park, and Echo Point, the return journey towards a small hamlet Kurishupara, where we were put up at a home stay, was refreshing. As we approached the home stay, which is built on the bank of a brook with a bridge leading to its gate, Jaison’s phone started ringing. Jaison K Baby is a professional forest guide popular among tourists.

After attending the call, Jaison said that elephants have come to Anakulam. We remembered that he had told us to keep our hopes less on spotting elephants as it had rained heavily the previous day. During or immediately after heavy rains, elephants usually do not venture for food or water. However, since there were elephants, he called for a jeep that would take us to see the majestic pachyderms.

The destination where we headed to was Anakulam in Mankulam Forest Division, Kerala. The length of Anakulam stream marks the border of Idukki and Ernakulam districts. Idukki district ends with the human habitation and the stream across which the Malayatoor Forest range starts into the Ernakulam district.

The 10-foot-wide road hardly had any bitumen and most part of the journey looked like it was an off-road drive. Despite the tough terrains, the journey was breathtaking with the road on either side covered with verdant green.

Jaison kept calling a forest watcher at Anakulam at regular intervals to find out if the elephants were still there. He was informed that around seven of them were there and a tusker was just coming down. At Anakulam, we saw the elephants from as near as 200 metres. There were eight of them, including a baby elephant standing in a cluster amid the stream, busy drinking water.

The elephants chose a spot where the depth of the brook was only about two to three feet. There was a tusker too, standing a little away from the group and quenching its thirst. It looked like the elephants were only interested at that particular spot of the lake. “They stay at that very spot for about four hours at a stretch, drinking water until they feel bloated and then they go back into the forest in herds,” a local person said.

“The villagers here say the elephants have taken affinity to the salty water that seeps into the stream from its bed,” says Jaison. In fact, a few inquisitive locals even went and explored the spot in the stream after the herd left to find small rocks kept at specific locations where they could feel water gushing up from underneath. They tasted the water and found it salty. The elephants remove these rocks, drink water, place back the rocks and leave, he added.

However, forest officials and watchers have another version. They say that the elephant herds have been frequenting the same spot for little over a century. “Elephant herds frequenting Anakulam, particularly the said spot, has been recorded even before the 1920s,” said Nagaraj, divisional forest officer, Mankulam Forest Division. “We have seen herds ranging from 67 elephants in one herd to about five in a smaller herd that frequent Anakulam.”

Environmentalists who have conducted studies over this say that after consuming food such as bamboo and grass, the elephants come down to drink water at this spot as it is close by and, mainly as the water has minerals in it. “On closer observation, experts also have noticed elephants eating the silt from the stream bed which are again rich in minerals,” Nagaraj pointed out.

The elephants all seem unperturbed by human habitations close by and it looked like they are even making their younger ones in the herd aware about the human-wildlife coexistence. Another elephant behaviour researchers have observed is that the elephants use this water source exclusively for quenching their thirst and not for bathing. “We can observe only baby elephants getting immersed due to their height. Most of the adults don’t even put water over their body using their trunks like they do at other waterbodies,” said Nagaraj.

Though this area is considered to be free of human-elephant conflicts, there have been a few stray incidents of elephants entering the human habitation like banana plantations. As a result, Kerala Forest Department has built a two-km-long heavy crash guard rope fencing to keep the elephants protected within their territory.