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Notorious Elephant That Terrorized Villages, Trampled Man to Death Captured

Newsweek 1/23/2023 Robyn White
A stock photo shows an Asian elephant with large tusks. A tusker in India has been captured after wrecking havoc on villages. © Panompon-Jaturavittawong/Getty A stock photo shows an Asian elephant with large tusks. A tusker in India has been captured after wrecking havoc on villages.

A notorious elephant that terrorized villages and allegedly trampled a man to death in India has been captured by authorities.

The elephant, officially known as PT-7, had been wreaking havoc in villages across the Palakkad and Idukki districts of Kerala for two years, local media reported.

The tusker had been responsible for 176 crop-raiding incidents and had damaged property 13 times, a 2022 Kerala Forest Department report said.

But local people claimed there had been at least over 500 incidents involving the creature.

Villagers claim the elephant had also killed a 60-year-old who was taking a morning stroll in July 2022. The Forest Department however, was unable to identify whether it had been responsible.

Local farmers were distressed at the amount of times the elephant destroyed crops. One told the Hindustan Times: "Usually animals invade crops for food but PT-7 enjoyed simply destroying farms. We suffered badly after it destroyed crops worth several lakhs of rupees."

Human/elephant conflict has been on the rise in India for years. The increase is largely due to habitat loss. As human development projects expand, elephant habitats are becoming smaller, which forces humans and wildlife together. Fragmented habitats can also cause "crop raiding" instances, when elephants stray onto farmlands in search of food and water, ruining growing crops.

Duncan McNair, CEO of Save The Asian Elephants (STAE), told Newsweek that this elephant would have been behaving naturally amid its vanishing habitats.

"This incident is one of far too many where India's ever-dwindling population of already highly endangered Asian elephants is effectively brutally punished for reacting naturally to extreme and often violent incursions into its natural but diminishing territory," McNair said.

"These invasions of its space by destruction of forests for reckless human expansion of roads, industrial developments and non-sustainable crops create a tension that so often is met by extreme reprisals on elephants, he said. "The kraal or 'crushing cage' is used to terrify, stab and beat young and adult elephants alike to break them, usually then for extreme commercial exploitation in tourism and festivals for the rest of their tragic lives."

STAE campaigns for the ethical treatment of Asian elephants. The charity, which is based in the U.K., is calling for governments to ban advertising for venues that exploit the animals.

The decision was taken to capture PT-7 after several recent violent incidents. In November 2022, it charged at a man in Dhoni, Palakkad, who broke his arm while running from the animal.

In recent months, the elephant had also been attacking cars and chasing humans. Wildlife officials said this was likely due to the elephant experiencing musth—a period where male elephants act more aggressively during mating season due to larger amounts of testosterone in their body.

It took forest department teams six hours to track the elephant down on January 22. After starting the operation at 4 a.m, the team spotted the animal traveling with two other elephants in an area between Mundur and Dhoni.

By 7.10 a.m. teams were able to dart the elephant with a tranquilizer. After 45 minutes, it fell unconscious.

The plan is for the elephant to be trained as a Kumki elephant. Kumki elephants are captive elephants that are specifically trained to catch wild elephants. Occasionally these elephants are also used to rescue wild elephants that are injured.

Officials will have to wait for the elephant to pass being in musth before he is trained.

India is home to almost 60 percent of Earth's remaining Asian elephant population. There are fewer than 22,000 left in the wild, with approximately 2,700 in captivity.

Newsweek has contacted the Kerala Forest Department for more information.

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Update 1/24/22, 4.00 a.m ET: This article was updated to include quotes from Duncan McNair of Save The Asian Elephants.

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