Published On: Mon, Feb 6th, 2023

An elephant turned villain named Radhakrishnan

O’Valley Tusker 1 was spotted in the Gudalur forest division recently. Photo: Special Arrangement

O’Valley Tusker 1 was spotted in the Gudalur forest division recently. Photo: Special Arrangement

In the O’Valley region of Gudalur, an elephant, known to locals as ‘Radhakrishnan’ and to the Forest Department as OVT1 (O’Valley Tusker 1), is spoken of in hushed and petrified tones. Blamed for a number of human deaths over the last decade, it has become the proverbial “elephant villain” in a landscape rife with negative human-elephant interactions.

How the tusker became aggressive is still a matter of debate. Forest Department staff say that in the past, the animal bore the brunt of aggression from local communities, who attacked it for entering human habitations. This made it aggressive.

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Special Arrangement

Though department officials, staff and experts working in the region admit that the tusker has most likely been responsible for at least some attacks on humans during encounters in the past, they say it is implausible that the same elephant is responsible for all the negative interactions that occurred in the region over the last year.

Officials said a total of six persons had died in negative interactions with elephants in the region, as a multitude of factors coalesced to facilitate negative human-wildlife interactions in the Gudalur forest division. “The O’Valley region is a key elephant corridor that connects the Mudumalai, Bandipur and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserves with the elephant habitats in Kerala. The presence of human habitations and encroachments along these corridors, coupled with agriculture that encourages elephants to raid crops, has made this area a hotspot for negative interactions between people and elephants,” said a conservationist in the Nilgiris.

According to experts, it is almost impossible to identify the elephant or elephants responsible for each negative interaction. There are believed to be around 25 resident elephants in O’Valley, with a number of tuskers and ‘makhna’ (tuskless) elephants that use the range sporadically during different parts of the year. “Even OVT1 is one such elephant, which arrives seasonally in the range and possibly moves into Kerala at other times,” said an expert on Asian elephants working in the Gudalur landscape.

Yuvarajkumar, Forest Range Officer, O’Valley Range, said that due to pressure from people, who have been demanding that OVT1 be captured and relocated or made a captive elephant, the department had begun monitoring the elephant 24 hours a day. “We are using drone cameras and field staff to keep tabs on the elephant so that even if a negative interaction does occur in the region, we can be sure that it is not because of OVT1,” he said.

The department is also trying to push the elephant towards Ambulimalai, an area with fewer human settlements. “Every elephant attack in this range is blamed on OVT1, but this remains unproven. As there is a lot of anger from people at this elephant, we are monitoring its movement to ensure that it does not get close to humans,” he added.


An expert committee formed by the State government in 2022 also made a number of recommendations to minimise human-elephant interactions in O’Valley and across the Gudalur forest division. Among them is the intensification of individual monitoring of elephants that are known to be drawn towards human settlements.

According to local conservationists, there can be up to eight such individuals. The expert committee has recommended that all elephants be radio-collared so that they can be tracked easily and information about their movement communicated to local communities. Another recommendation is spatial zonation of areas into elephant conservation areas, human-elephant co-existence areas and elephant exclusion areas.

Kommu Omkaram, District Forest Officer (Gudalur division), told The Hindu that the division of O’Valley into different beats and zones had commenced. The range is being classified as “go-zones, no-go zones and co-existence zones”. “As the terms suggest, go-zones are where people are allowed to move around, while ‘no-go zones’ are areas from where people are prohibited, such as forests and elephant habitats. ‘Coexistence zones’ are those that both people and elephants are expected to use, such as tea fields,” he said.

The zonation is expected to help the Forest Department manage interactions, with O’Valley also being split in to six-seven different smaller beats, each manned by dedicated staff members.

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