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Last week, the boys were all set to walk down to Sittilingi through the Aruvankadu forest, when we heard the "buzz" of the elephants.

Ramsub on his bike and Jaga in his jeep had been detained at the Pappanaickenpatti check-post for more than an hour by the Foresters. Eventually they were allowed to go up in convoys.

The next day we heard from various people that there was a pregnant elephant in the herd of seven or eight, and that the Forest department had blocked the road down to Salem for bikes. The Foresters were trying to move the herd towards where they came from, but with water and cover available the elephants stayed put.

I heard of crop losses (sugarcane eaten up, mango trees damaged) in Moolapadi, Eeshankadu and Erivalavu; but in all this the attitude of the villagers was one of concern for the elephants in spite of apprehension for their crops and houses. In fact, one man who had lost some trees said, "Ivlo peria jivanam, evlo theeni thevai athukku, paavam..." ("Such a large life-force, how much food it will need, poor thing..."). I never came across any antagonism towards the elephant or any widespread panic as reported in the media. The trouble is that if the elephants approach a village, the villagers will set off crackers: What options do they have?

And the Foresters, without any experience of dealing with elephants in these parts--these are the first elephants in the living memory of the oldest of the villagers--also had no recourse but to set off crackers to move the herd.

So then, who will speak for the elephants? With their range fragmented and this a drought year, they have probably strayed in here in search of water: That is the guess of most people.

Conflict with humans causes great stress to the elephants. Presumably, they, too would like to set off crackers, if they could, to keep us humans at bay.

A couple of days ago, we heard that the calf was still-born or died soon after birth, This calf was lost, no matter what the autopsy shows, because we humans could not leave the herd alone to have the baby in peace.

This may be the first time elephants have come to these hills, but I fear it is not the last. The Forest Department needs to prepare itself for any eventuality, and needs to train its people here to act in an emergency in such a way that no harm comes to humans or to elephants. In the long run, I don't see any alternative to moving elephant herds other than trained koonkies.

As of today, I hear that the elephants have climbed the hill towards Vengayakurichi and are headed back the way they came.

If this transpires, it is indeed fortunate, but it has happened more due to the intelligence of the elephant than that of man.