By Giji K. Raman
It is a motion-based alert system, without the electronics and the software. Rangarajan, a Muthuvan farmer in Edamalakkudy, relies on that to ward off marauding wild elephants.
He has grown bamboo around his cultivated land at Societykudy on the banks of the Manaliyar in the forest. The long ends of some of these bamboo plants are attached to his hut. If elephants enter the cultivated area through the bamboo trees, Rangarajan’s hut shakes.
As soon as the ‘motion sensor’ works, Rangarajan and others light small fires to stop the further advance of elephants. “This method was in use for many years in Muthuvan settlements. It slowly disappeared but I still stick to it,” he says.
The Muthuvan tribe is known for its symbiotic relationship with animals. Only one tribesman had been killed by elephants in the past 10 years in spite of the settlements being deep inside the forests. They hold firm to the belief that harming wild elephants will bring a curse on them. “My experience is that elephants do not enter cultivated areas after midnight. So, usually we keep the fire burning till midnight. Then we have a sound sleep,” he says.
Rangarajan lives with his wife in the hut. His paddy field is ready for harvest. He has grown Vellachi, an endemic variety. “If you attack wild elephants, they turn hostile. They have a good memory and can attack you later,” says Rangarajan.
It is not wise to abandon your fields and settlements fearing wild elephant attacks, he says. “Elephants are part of the forest and they enter fields frequently. We have been successfully employing this method to keep the animals out,” he says.
When the Manaliyar is in rage during the rains, the harvest is done. “Edamalakkudy is a highly fertile place and one does not need fertilisers or pesticides. The government started providing us ration rice for Rs.1 a kg and the people gradually stopped farming,” he says.
“Keppa (barley) was the staple food. Rice and barley produced by the tribespeople were very healthy. Everything we needed was produced here. Our ancestors had solutions to all problems faced by those living in the forest. The bamboo fencing is only one of those,” he says.