1 arrested for alleged role in pregnant elephant’s death in Kerala

NEW DELHI: One person has been arrested in connection with the killing of a pregnant elephant in Palakkad district in Kerala, state forest minister K Raju said on Friday.

The minister said that one man named Wilson, who carries out farming in areas around Ambalappara, was arrested for his alleged role in the incident. Efforts are underway to nab the remaining persons.

Last month, the wild elephant had suffered a painful death as a result of consuming a fruit laced with explosives. However, officials believe that it could have been a snare laid to kill wild boars and pigs and must have been consumed by the jumbo instead. 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 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.

More than 250 personnel from the state's forest department are searching through private estates on the forest fringes in Palakkad and Malappuram districts, in order to get some clues on the death of the pregnant elephant. The forest department's combing team comprises personnel from Silent Valley, Mannarkad, Palakkad and Nilambur divisions under whose jurisdictions forests in the two districts mostly fall, sources said.

The team is mainly looking for presence of snares kept by locals for wild animals, and for likely suspects in the case. They are assisted by a team of police under Palakkad Superintendent of Police. There has been no breakthrough yet, and sources said the forest department has decided to extend the combing operation across the state.

A separate team of the state Crime Branch are proceeding with a simultaneous probe into use of explosives which had lad to the animal's death.

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," K K Sunil Kumar, divisional forest officer, Mannarkkad, had earlier said.

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.

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.

Leaders from Kerala's Left as well as Congress-led alliances, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Thursday rejected the factually incorrect statements made by the BJP and central leadership in connection with the death of the wild elephant. Calling out attempts to give a communal colour to the incident, the CM said there are some who have used the tragedy to "unleash a hate campaign" and ‘importing bigotry".

Former union minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi stoked a controversy Wednesday when she claimed that the elephant died in Malappuram district, and that the district is the country's "most violent" where poison is thrown on roads leading to the death of 300-400 birds and dogs at a time. Gandhi also claimed that the Kerala government has not taken any action and that elephants die in the state every three days.

CM Vijayan said that while his government would ensure justice for the slain elephant, some persons have used the tragedy to ‘unleash a hate campaign' and ‘importing bigotry'.

"In a tragic incident in Palakkad dist, a pregnant elephant has lost its life. Many of you have reached out to us. We want to assure you that your concerns will not go in vain. Justice will prevail. Having said that, we are saddened by the fact some have used this tragedy to unleash a hate campaign. Lies built upon inaccurate descriptions and half truths were employed to obliterate the truth. Some even tried to import bigotry into the narrative. Wrong priorities," he wrote on Twitter.

 

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