The release of the elephant Rivaldo into the Nilgiris wilderness, after three months in captivity, was a cause for celebration among forest officials and environmentalists as it was the first time that a tusker kept in captivity had been released in the forest. But some challenges remain. Chief among them is the hiccups that authorities still face in preventing Rivaldo from entering human dwellings – the reason he was taken captive in the first place.
Although it is suspected that Rivaldo will return to the human habitation in search of his human friend Mark Dravidar, conservationists say his visits could be phased out if locals stop feeding him and others. elephants, often in a gesture of affection.
An article published in First line in 2011 claims that elephants frequent the area surrounding ‘Cheetal Walk’ (a forest shelter on the edge of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, owned by marine biologist Mark Davidar, son of famous conservationist ERC Davidar) and have become accustomed to to the presence of humans there since the 1980s. Rivaldo, who was found on the Sigur Plateau in the Nilgiris district, was one of them. It has been fed by locals since 2008.
However, his frequent contact with human habitations cost him dearly. In 2013, Rivaldo lost 30 cm of his trunk. The story of the loss of his trunk, however, has two versions: the first says that the defender could have been injured begging for food in the streets while the second says he was caught in a trap set by hunters. to kill wild boars.
The Marc case
It was Mark Dravidar who looked after Rivaldo when he was injured and gave him food and medicine. After his proboscis had healed, Mark stopped feeding Rivaldo to wean him from the food supply and encourage him to switch to coarse vegetation. Rivaldo would visit the premises where he was being treated and wait to be fed, sometimes for hours.
âWhen no food came, he left. His visits have become sporadic and shorter. After six months it would stop for a few minutes and then leave, ânoted conservation biologist Priya Davidar, daughter of ERC Davidar, a renowned wildlife advocate, in the recent issue of the journal. Trumpet.
Mark moved to Cheetal Walk – established in 1967 – after stint with the Bombay Natural History Society and Madras Snake Park. The house is located near the Sigur Corridor, one of the important corridors of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
Mark’s house was a usual haunt for Defenders, and the biologist ended up befriending many of them, including Rivaldo as well as two others named Ronaldo and Roberto.
Marc said in the First line article that says Rivaldo “is smart, but gets unnecessarily violent.” Yet he is a peace loving animal.
A nature lover, Mark passed away in 2013 due to health issues. However, many locals say he was injured and died after an elephant chased him.
Priya, however, dismisses the claim.
After Mark’s death, Rivaldo was again injured in 2015 by a savage defender.
âAgain, he was treated in the same place without strain, and the same pattern of violation was recorded after the feeding was stopped,â Priya explains in her article.
It was after his second injury that Rivaldo became a roadside tourist attraction. However, when tourism was affected during COVID-19, Rivaldo stopped begging for food along the route. Priya says it was a healthy indication that he can be disused and sent back to fend for himself in the wild.
Although Rivaldo has never attacked humans, it is claimed that he has already been attacked by a few locals who injured his right eye, rendering him partially blind.
âThe inhabitants feared that the elephant would enter their village, because they feared that it would damage their mud houses. It was also around the same time that another elephant died in a fire. So there was an increased demand to take Rivaldo captive, âsaid K Kalidasan, an environmentalist and one of the eight members of the expert committee formed after the Madras High Court order to decide on the release. by Rivaldo.
After another elephant, suspected of being Ronaldo, died in a fire in January this year, forestry department officials lured Rivaldo on May 5 into a kraal under the pretext of feeding him, in the buffer zone of MTR. He was taught to obey commands inside the kraal.
After he was taken prisoner, conservationists and animal lovers seized the Madras High Court, demanding the elephant’s release. They alleged that even after the treatment, the elephant was kept in captivity for no reason. Even MPs like Maneka Gandhi and MPs like Vanathi Srinivasan wrote to the state government for the elephant’s release in the forest.
“Rivaldo was perfectly capable of surviving in the jungle without human assistance and ‘rehabilitation’ cannot involve captivity since captivity is a dead end for a male elephant in the prime of life,” Priya explains.
Considering that elephants have excellent memories, Priya says it is Mark’s memory that draws Rivaldo to human habitation.
âThe elephant cannot adapt to the forest overnight. It takes time. If people stopped feeding him, his entry into human habitation would become less. But yes, Rivaldo still visits Cheetal Walk sometimes â, says Priya Federal.
Agreeing with Priya, Kalidasan says people need to stop feeding the elephant. âThey do so with love and sympathy for his condition,â he says.
âRivaldo is already in good health. He cannot be healthy just by eating the food offered by people. It can also forage in the wild and get by without human addiction. So, to keep it permanently in the forest, people have to stop feeding it, âhe adds.