The killing of an elephant in the district of Palakkad, Kerala, caught the attention of people on social media, leading to a nationwide outcry. The incident turned from an animal death to political and religious tension.
The district of Palakkad is known for its beautiful forest and Silent Valley National Park. The National Park is one of the last undisturbed tracts of rain forests and tropical moist evergreen forest in the Indian South-Western Ghats mountain range. It is common for wild animals in the National Park to forage around in the nearby settlements or fields in search of food.
The said wild elephant had left the forest and was meandering into a nearby village in search of food. According to forest officials, the elephant is alleged to have eaten a pineapple, filled with country made firecrackers.
Locals usually use such baits to protect their farmlands or field from the wild boars, which the pregnant elephant alleged to have accidentally consumed.
This incident came into public notice when a forest officer narrated the details of the horrific death on social media with an emotional apology. Forest officer Mohan Krishnan, who is a part of the Rapid Response Team to rescue the elephant in his Facebook post, along with the image of the elephant, wrote, “She trusted everyone. When the pineapple she ate exploded, she must have been shocked not thinking about herself, but about the child she was going to give birth to in the next 18 to 20 months.”
In his post, which was in Malayalam, he stated that, though she was running in the street of the village in searing pain, she did not hurt humans or cause damage to any property, “she is full of goodness,” he had remarked.
The explosive was so powerful that it severely damaged the elephant’s tongue and mouth, leaving her unable to eat and hungry.
Eventually, the elephant walked up to the Velliyar River and stood there. Photos shared by the officer showed the elephant standing in the river with her mouth and trunk in the water, perhaps for some relief from the unbearable pain. He said she must have done this to avoid flies and other insects infecting her injuries.
Furthermore, the forest division did try to carry out a rescue mission by bringing two captive elephants, Surendran and Neelakanthan, to lead her out of the river. “But I think she had a sixth sense. She didn’t let us do anything,” Mohan Krishnan wrote.
After hours of attempts by the division officials to rescue the elephant, she scummed to death at 4 pm on May 27, standing in water at Thiruvizhamkunnu forest section in Kottopadam Grama Panchayat. The veterinarian who did the post-mortem informed the officials that she was pregnant. As the officials thought it was righteous to give her a farewell, she was taken back to the forest in a lorry, for cremation.
Meanwhile, many NGO’s like the Humane Society International-India (HSI), Wildlife SOS, working for the welfare and against the cruelty towards animals, offered rewards to anyone who would help in bringing the culprit to book.
Prakash Javadekar, the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, also tweeted that Government has taken a serious note of the killing and no stone will be unturned to investigate appropriately and arrest the culprit(s).
According to Mannarkkad divisional forest officer (DFO) Sunil Kumar, the elephant might have come from Silent Valley National Park’s buffer zone. It died on a private land 300m from the Thiruvizhamkunnu forest section. They had registered a case for killing the wild elephant, and on June 5, the Forest Minister informed that the person alleged to be responsible for the death of the elephant was arrested.
The arrest comes a day after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said three suspects had were identified, and strict action will be taken against those responsible.
The police are looking for more suspects. “The arrested man is a rubber tapper. A search is on for others,” Palakkad district police chief G Siva Vikram Said.
According to Chief Wildlife Warden Surendra Kumar, the man is in his forties, who allegedly handled explosives and assisted others.
The incident crushed the heart of many, and people became outrageous. However, what made the situation was the misleading reporting made by many of the leading media houses stating that “the elephant was offered the fruit filled with cracker and that the heart wrecking incident took place in Malappuram district of Kerala.”
These incorrect reports made by the media made the public angry, slashing religious communities, and leading to religious unrest.
This further lead to political parties tried to squeeze in their own political game by erupting a political controversy with the state’s chief minister flagging a “hate campaign” over the incident by the Hindu right-wing forces.
Meanwhile, BJP leader and environmentalist Maneka Gandhi slammed the state government and Rahul Gandhi for not taking the cruelty against animals seriously. She came down firmly on the ill-treatment of captive elephants. “Forest secretary should be removed, and the minister (for wildlife protection) should resign if he has any sense. Rahul Gandhi is from that area, why has he not taken action,” she asked.
Wildlife warden of Silent Valley National Park Samuel V Pachuau said that patrolling has been intensified after the horrific death of the elephant.