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Young men immersed in a football match in a tea estate in the hill station of Munnar on Tuesday evening had an unexpected visitor: a wild elephant. The lone tusker jaunted onto the Kannan Devan Kannimala ground uninvited when the two teams were playing a match as part of the Tata Finlay local football competition.
As soon as the men saw the elephant, they scrambled in different directions leaving the tusker to fend the ball. But interestingly, the tusker did not attack the men or even chase them.
Contrary to how wild elephants are known to behave, this tusker is a local favourite. Known to many as ‘Padayappa’ (named after a 1999 hit Rajinikanth film), the elephant strolled around the ground for a while and later left for the forests nearby.
Padayappa has many admirers in Munnar as he often makes appearances on state highways and other public places. In a place notorious for man-elephant conflict, this tusker is an exception. He is known to be peaceful and has no history of creating disturbances. Many locals were upset when he suddenly went missing from Munnar’s forests in 2016, sparking fears that he may have migrated to another forest. But he returned in style for Onam, the state’s most important festival, when he made an appearance in Munnar last year.
There are many feats attributed to Padayappa. Several years ago, when a local vendor carrying bags of carrots saw the elephant in front, she hid nearby. But the tusker promptly went for the carrots and left without harming her. In 2001, when then-chief minister AK Antony was returning from Munnar after launching a project, Padayappa stood on the main road, causing inordinate delays for the chief minister.
The elephant, believed to be around 70 years old, has a limp on one of its rear legs and unusually long tusks.