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Pygmy elephants found in State forests?

By P. Venugopal



Pygmy elephant at Peppara sanctuary

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, JAN. 18. Wildlife photographer Sali Palode and `Kani' tribesman Mannan encountered a small herd of five-foot-tall elephants in Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary in the State last week, sparking speculation whether the pygmy elephants the tribesmen of the region had been talking about were, indeed, real.

They came across five of these elephants in a clearing close to the edge of the sanctuary. The animals scurried into the thickets on sensing human presence, but Mr. Sali Palode snapped a few pictures of one. But for their small size, the elephants looked like full-grown adults, according to him. He also ruled out the possibility of these animals being calf elephants, as calf elephants are not known to move in a herd of their own, unaccompanied by their elders.

There were no normal-sized elephants in the herd.

`Kani' tribesmen living in the Agasthyavanam Forests in southern Kerala had for long been talking about pygmy elephants, which they call `kallana'.

The State Forest Department and wildlife scientists, however, tended to believe that `kallana' was an animal that existed only in `tribal folklore'. A decade ago, well-known elephant expert P.S. Easa had spent several months in the forests of the region looking for the pygmies reported by the tribesmen. His mission was not successful.

As recently as in September 2003, scientists had come out with DNA evidence establishing that the small elephants found in the forests of Borneo belong to a new subspecies with characteristics quite different from their cousins found elsewhere in Asia.

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