New Delhi: Amid an outpouring of shock and outrage over the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala after it ate a cracker-filled fruit, the Narendra Modi government Thursday asked the state administration to look into the matter on priority, and also take action against forest officers concerned for acting “irresponsibly” and allowing the pachyderm to suffer for hours, leading to its death.
In a letter addressed to the Kerala chief secretary, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change said: “This ministry notes the incident with utmost concern especially as it happened in a state which reveres elephants.”
“The incident is even more brutal and inhumane as the elephant was pregnant,” the letter stated.
The elephant had reportedly strayed into a village in Palakkad last week and ate a pineapple filled with firecrackers, which exploded in its mouth. The elephant then walked for days in pain before going into a river, where it died standing on 27 May.
The incident has triggered outrage from several sections of the society. Celebrities and politicians, including cricketer Virat Kohli, industrialist Ratan Tata and BJP MP Maneka Gandhi, expressed shock and indignation over the incident.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar Thursday took to Twitter, saying: “Central Government has taken a very serious note of the killing of an elephant in Mallapuram, #Kerala. We will not leave any stone unturned to investigate properly and nab the culprit(s). This is not an Indian culture to feed fire crackers and kill.”
Javadekar wrongly mentioned in the tweet that the incident has taken place in Mallapuram.
Govt asked for detailed report
The letter stated: “It has been brought to the notice of this ministry that such practices of use of crackers to repel wild animals have been continuing in the state for quite some time, which is contrary to law and ethics of humane treatment of wild animals.”
“This ministry considers such acts as a case of negligence of the concerned officer(s) to have the issue unresolved,” it added.
The letter urged the Kerala government to “look into the matter on priority and take immediate action for nabbing the culprits and bringing them to books and also identify the officer(s) who may have acted irresponsibly which led to the suffering of the elephant for more than 48 hours without treatment eventually leading to its death.”
The ministry has asked for a “detailed report” on the matter urgently.
Kerala forest department officials familiar with the ongoing investigation into the death of the elephant told ThePrint there has been prima facie evidence of “negligence” by the forest staffers.
Forest officials saw the injured elephant near Ambalapara at the border of Pottiyara forest in Mannarkkad division in the Western Ghats on 23 May, but still nothing was done, said officials.
On 25 May, the elephant was found standing in a river in Theyyamkund area, trying to cool the wound, but she died before she could be pulled out for treatment, according to the officials.
‘Outrage is misplaced’
Forest officials said it is possible the elephant might have eaten the cracker-filled fruit, which is generally used by local residents to kill wild boars, which destroy crops, through a practice called ‘snaring’.
“Snaring is a practice that is widely used in different parts of the country to kill wild animals. An edible item is packed with explosives or chemicals or glass pieces, so as to make sure an animal is deceived, and killed… It is quite possible that the elephant ate the explosive-laden fruit that was meant to ward off wild boars by villagers,” an Indian Forest Service officer (IFS) from Kerala said.
Gauri Maulekhi, an animal rights activist, agreed.
“The outrage over the death of the elephant is misplaced,” she said. “Whenever an animal is declared vermin by a state government, they use all sorts of cruel ways to kill the animals without any dignity whatsoever,” she added.
“Wild boars are declared vermin in Kerala… That means that they do not enjoy the protection given to wild animals under the Wildlife Protection Act.”
“So, villagers adopt all sorts of ways to get rid of them… The death of this elephant is only a reminder of what animals go through,” she said.
“If you are going to set up snares for some animals, there is nothing preventing other animals from eating them or falling for them… So unless there is outrage over these barbaric policies, such incidents will routinely happen,” she added.
Speaking to Mirror Now, Surendra Kumar, IFS, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden of Kerala, said this is the second incident of elephant death in the last two months.
A wild elephant, who was also suspected of having eaten explosives, had died in the forests of Punalur in Kollam division in April, he said.