THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In the sticky summer heat of the Periyar tiger reserve, a team of wardens is hunting for a serial ‘lady-killer’ — a 25-year-old tusker with an insatiable sexual appetite, who stands accused of killing at least 12 female elephants.
“Between February 25 and June 16 last year, eight female elephants were found dead in Periyar. Postmortem reports and other evidence suggested that these were caused by the same tusker,” Kerala’s chief wildlife warden K K Srivastava told TOI. “Two more females were found dead on March 12 and March 21 this year. The nature of injuries point to the same culprit,” he added. Two other elephant deaths are also attributed to the rogue tusker, named Alpha by the forest department. Alpha has been on the run for three years and had reportedly gored the females to death after they resisted his sexual advances. Experts attribute the behaviour to ‘musth’ (a state of heightened testosterone-fuelled aggression in bull elephants).
The department was first alerted to Alpha’s deeds in March 2009 when six elephants (five females and a male) were reported dead from Periyar Tiger Reserve in a span of just two months. Initially, poachers were suspected, but officials decided to dig deeper.
A 15-member expert committee under field director (Project Tiger) O P Kaler was mandated to track the killer elephant.
The committee submitted its report on April 4, 2009, concluding that five of these deaths were due to “fights between elephants”. However, these appeared to have been killed by the same tusker, it had suggested. Subsequently, an elephant-tracking team was put in place. Experts from the Periyar Foundation coordinated the work and processed the collected data. On March 27, last year, the rogue pachyderm was spotted on the forest fringes, where another young adult-male tusker was killed a week earlier. The rogue animal was tracked for a month. They found that he was in the peak of ‘musth’ characterized by “frequent increased sexual activities (like drawing out his organ and indulging in self-pleasure). He was often chasing females and attacking them”.
Though rare, such behaviour has been reported in the past from the wild in other parts of the world, said A Veeramani, an ecologist at the Periyar Foundation. The victims bore puncture marks on their rear, ample proof that a male of the species had tried to force them from behind and gored them when resisted. Forensic tests too established Alpha’s culpability as the wounds matched the dimensions of his tusk.