A week after a pregnant wild elephant suffered a painful death as a result of consuming a fruit laced with explosives, an investigation launched by the forest officials in Kerala has not yielded any tangible results. The late discovery of the injury, at least two weeks old, on May 25 and the distance traversed by the elephant since the injury are proving to be challenges for forest officials in solving the case and nabbing the culprits.
In a statement, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the “Environment Ministry has taken a serious note of the death of the elephant and has sought complete report on the incident. “Stern action will be taken against the culprit(s),” he said.
“The injury was already a few days old when we saw the elephant for the first time. So we have not been able to pin-point the place where the injury was sustained. That’s the limitation we are facing,” said K K Sunil Kumar, divisional forest officer, Mannarkkad.
“It Is not going to be easy to find out. We have to depend on local information since these areas are remote. Our detection of the areas during perambulation and the information supplied by wildlife and forest activists will help the case,” he added.
The angle of whether someone intentionally gave the elephant the fruit-laced explosive is being probed. But the strong possibility before the officials is that it could have been a snare laid to kill wild boars and pigs. Cases of such snares laid by villagers are common across forest areas in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and have even been known to kill wild elephants.
“In the forest fringes, there have been reports of crackers and country-bombs being used to trap and kill pigs and other wild animals. It’s illegal too, so we’re not belittling it. But it could be a possibility that the elephant accidentally ate it,” said the officer.
Another forest official, who did not want to be named, said since elephants can walk upto 100 kms a day, it could have strayed far from the spot where it was inflicted with the injury. “It would be difficult to find unless we get a clue.”
Shashi Kumar, a deputy range officer with the division, said such incidents of explosive traps for pigs and boars used to be reported with regular frequency in the olden days. “But since we began filing cases, such incidents have dropped. In our division, hardly any such incidents are reported,” he said.
Dr P S Easa, a renowned wildlife expert, called for tough action against people who lay such explosive traps in forest fringe areas.
“It’s definitely illegal and cannot be tolerated. How can you say it’s aimed only at animals? It could be aimed at people too. So there has to be tough action.”
Samuel Pachuau, wildlife warden of the Silent Valley National Park (SVNP), said, “All options are open right now.The investigation is underway.”
It was the SVNP field staff that first located the elephant looking distraught and physically weak on May 23. It is believed to have strayed out of the national park, looking for food and water. It could have potentially got separated from the herd after suffering the injury and therefore couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group.
Tata Sons emeritus chairman Ratan Tata on Wednesday demanded justice for pregnant elephant.
— Ratan N. Tata (@RNTata2000) June 3, 2020
How the incident came to light
The elephant’s killing came to light on May 30 after Mohan Krishnan, a section forest officer in Mannarkkad in Palakkad district, wrote a heartfelt note on Facebook which quickly went viral.
As part of the rapid response team, Krishnan attempted to rescue the 15-year-old elephant which was found standing in the middle of a stream near a settlement with its head down and it’s trunk in the water. When they approached it to bring it to safety using two captive elephants, it would charge. But otherwise, it remained passive without hurting anyone. For almost 48 hours, the elephant stood in that spot, before succumbing to the deep internal injuries on the evening of May 27.
Dr David Abraham, assistant forest veterinary officer who conducted the post-mortem of the elephant, said, “Due to the cracker explosion, there were terrible injuries to it’s upper and lower jaws. The area was filled with maggots. Because of the injuries, it could not eat or drink anything for weeks. It was very weak.”
He added that the nature of the substance, most probably a fruit, in which the cracker was stuffed, couldn’t be identified as well. On media reports claiming it was a pineapple, he said it wasn’t confirmed.
Dr Abraham realised that the elephant was pregnant only towards the end of the post-mortem when he noticed the enlarged uterus. “It was an incidental finding. The foetus was probably one or two months old. It’s a rarest of the rare case when a pregnant elephant dies as a result of such cracker-related injuries. It’s very sad.”
After the completion of the post-mortem, the elephant was duly cremated the same day.
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