Rivaldo is a male elephant approximately 40 years old. It became habituated to food offered by humans. This is a big problem because elephants tend to beg for more food. A five tons elephant is not a pet and when it begs, it can create damages. We observed however that Rivaldo changes his behavior when he is not fed any more. He (and other elephants actually) progressively ignores places where there is no food. This is certainly novel and interesting because most believe that elephants can’t change their behavior. We wrote in 2016 that if the law was implemented, people who feed elephants would be punished and then Rivaldo might be less of a nuisance. We also warned that if no action is taken, Rivaldo might end up in captivity, which would be a failure of conservation. The text is in this page here.
Guess what? The paper was ignored.
Early 2020, a lady presenting herself as a local representative of the Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) phoned us to get our opinion and support because we were “knowing everything about elephants”. She suggested that Rivaldo could not hear, could not feed himself and was partly blind (his right eye has been hurt in 2017). She also said that he entered the garden of her gated community and people were terrified. This gated community being on a riverbank which is a good habitat for elephants. We said that Rivaldo was in sufficiently good health and could survive in the wild. We explained that wild elephants should remain in the wild and that it was the role of conservationists to address problems to keep this objective. We also proposed to start an awareness campaign with this lady.
Guess what? We were ignored. She started campaigning for the removal of Rivaldo.
In September 2020 to our great surprise, we were asked why we were in favor of removing Rivaldo. The SPCA lady had used our Gajah article and transformed its message to promote Rivaldo’s capture. People don’t read scientific articles, if they read they don’t understand and if they understand, they alter their message because people don’t read scientific articles: this completes the circle and explains why people believed what was, to put it plainly, a lie. We wrote a notice in order to clarify our position. The notice is available here: Notice_Rivaldo.
Guess what? The notice was ignored.
On March 22nd 2021 (two months before Rivaldo’s capture), the Field Director, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, asked if we could be part of a rehabilitation program. We said yes and sent a summary for which an acknowledgement of receipt was obtained. We did not want to be invited to witness a failure and proposed a six months plan to make sure Rivaldo would not venture near habitations. We expended on the draft and submitted a paper to Trumpet, the elephant newsletter of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Due to the Covid epidemics, the publication was delayed, but the paper is now available here: Davidar & al 2021.
Guess what? Our proposal was ignored.
One and a half year after this issue started, six months after Rivaldo was fed near a Tribal School (with the horrible danger posed to children), three to four months after the elephant was captured and tortured, after spending a fortune, the new administration and in particular the new Chief Widlife Warden thankfully ordered the release of Rivaldo on the ground that none of the arguments to capture Rivaldo were valid. We could not agree more.
Rivaldo was released on 2nd August 2021. We hope this is the starting point of a new policy where facts will matter and the human-side of the human-elephant conflict will be addressed.
After one month of release, Rivaldo never touched food offered by humans. He fares very well in the jungle as we observed earlier and he mixes with other elephants. Till date, the rehabilitation program is a success and we can only congratulate all those involved, from the top of the new Forest Department administration to the forest guards to the WWF team tracking Rivaldo. The elephant might need some observation for months to discourage him entering villages, but so far so good. An update on why this course of action is necessary is given in the Times of India (30 Aug. 2021).
So far so good on 29th September 2021, but the de-habituation program is done like this (photo on 26th September 2021). Isn’t it … surprising?