Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Kallana capture - more reports and an unhelpful Dr. Angstrom H. Troubador hoax

There's more emerging in both the English-language Kerali and Malayalam language on the alleged "kallana" pygmy elephant captured near Paruthpally in February. It seems to take a while for news reports to make their way to a place in the www.google.in rankings where you have a chance of finding them. The sheer size of India (and its cyberspace), with a population of over a billion, may have something to do with this.

There's a Malayalam news report showing footage of the elephant in captivity, and an interview with wildlife photographer Sali Palode and Kani tracker Malan Kani. There's also Jain Angadi's 2010 photo of a male kallana back up on India Nature Watch (the site was down for a while, then up again minus its photos.)

Another Malayalam news report has the footage of the kallana before capture, with a scale superimposed on it showing it to be just over five feet high at its highest point - the apex of its humped back. There's also a studio interview with Sali and another who I couldn't identify, as I can't read Malayalam. The report also has an extract from a press conference with a Kerala government official who mentions the English words "chief wildlife warden" - he's probably a senior Forest Department wildlife official.

The New India Express article Of Myths and Legends: the kallana story, also from February, quotes E A Jayson, a senior wildlife biologist at Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), as saying the chance of kallana exisiting is not great, due to the lack of evidence. Kerala Forests Department's V Gopinath, Principal Chief Conservator (Wildlife), states in the article that "What we have found was a young malnourished male elephant. It is a six-year-old calf, not the pygmy as claimed by tribespeople."

Former KFRI research scientist K M Jayahari claimed in the article to have seen the creature in 2003, and expresses the opinion that it's not a calf, based on its behaviour, but admits he only saw one individual, not a herd. There's also an unnamed WWF India official who says we "shouldn't brush aside" reports of the kallana, and that that Kani have been right about wildlife in the past.

An English-language Kerali blog, probably translating Malayalam news sources, claimed that Kerala Forest Minister Shri Ganesh Kumar had ordered the setting up of a committee to investigate kallana and establish its identity. A ministerial announcement is expected (eventually).

Enter Dr. Angstrom H. Troubador, in what appears to be the first kallana hoax, in a field that had been remarkably free of hoaxers and the preserve of admirably sincere people up to now.

The Internet Chronicle article on kallana - just before the capture at Paruthypally - claimed that "a recent expedition led by Dr. Angstrom H. Troubador, an expert pachyderm biologist, returned with conclusive genetic evidence proving the ‘Kallana’ are, in fact, a distinct species of dwarf elephant."

The Internet Chronicle's web address is www.chronicle.su - the .su domain denotes the Soviet Union, defunct since 1990, which should send alarm bells ringing. As should the ridiculous name. And for those still in doubt, the Internet Chronicle lists Cesse Poole, Dr Oy Vay, and the late Colonel Muammar al Gaddafi among its other contributors. Neither would any serious biologist call themselves a "pachyderm biologist" – the term "pachyderm" describes a no-longer accepted order of mammals – everything from pigs, rhinos, hippos and elephants – that is no longer in use.

Dr Angstrom H. Troubador turns up as an expert – a cancer oncologist or nuclear safety specialist or whatever, all over the web, with reports originating at The Internet Chronicle. To its credit, even the normally shockingly uncritical blogosphere is full of comments like "Is this real?" and "Looks fake to me" alongside Dr Angstrom H. Troubador's supposed pronouncements on the discovery of mummified dinosaurs, Fukishima nuclear fallout heating up the Pacific, the death by cannabis overdose of "Chumlee" Russell from the TV show Pawn Stars, etc. (No, I've not heard of Chumlee Russell either.)

The much more legitimate New India Express report refers to "rumours of DNA profiling being done on the captured elephant to confirm that it is not a separate sub-species". This may originate from The Internet Chronicle's Dr Angstrom H. Troubador hoax, fuelled by the actual news report that a blood sample had been taken from the captive elephant, and media commentary back in 2005 when the dead female kallana was found about what a good idea it would be had a DNA sample been taken.

Pygmy Elephants is with the publishers now and I'm reading the first proofs. I will find a way to include the above in the final version.

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