Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday said the police and forest officials are focussing on three suspects involved in the death of a pregnant elephant in Palakkad district. The elephant had died on May 27, some weeks after she ate a pineapple stuffed with fireworks, leading to outrage around the country.
Vijayan assured the public that their concerns will be addressed and that “justice will prevail”. “The police and forest departments will jointly investigate the incident,” he tweeted. “The district police chief and the district forest officer visited the site today [Thursday]. We will do everything possible to bring the culprits to justice.”
The chief minister said his administration will also try to address the reason behind the increased incidents of human-wildlife conflict, adding that climate change could be adversely affecting both local communities and animals.
Vijayan also criticised Opposition leaders who he claimed have used “this tragedy to unleash a hate campaign”. “Lies built upon inaccurate descriptions and half truths were employed to obliterate the truth,” he added. “Some even tried to import bigotry into the narrative. Wrong priorities.”
Kerala is a society that respects the outrage against injustice, the chief minister said, urging people to “fight injustice in all its forms; everytime, everywhere”.
Meanwhile, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the Centre will investigate the elephant’s death. “Central Government has taken a very serious note of the killing of an elephant in Mallapuram, Kerala,” Javadekar said in a tweet. “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.” While the minister’s tweet said Malappuram district, the incident happened near the Silent Valley forest in Palakkad.
The wild elephant had left the Silent Valley forest and meandered into a nearby village in search of food. It was here that she ate the fireworks-filled pineapple that villagers use to protect their fields against wild boars. No arrests have been made even a week after the incident. The police have launched an investigation and registered a first information report against unidentified persons. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has promised “strict action” against the culprits.
According to forest officials, when the elephant ate the fruit, the fireworks exploded in her mouth, badly injuring her. After walking around the village for days in pain, unable to eat anything, the elephant went back into the wild. The animal then ventured out into the Velliyar River and stood there with her trunk in the water.
Forest officer Mohan Krishnan, who shared the photographs on Facebook, said she must have done so to avoid flies and other insects on her injuries. Eventually, forest officials brought out two captive elephants to lure her out of the water. However, attempts to rescue her failed and she died on May 27 around 4 pm, still standing in water. The elephant was taken back inside the forest in a truck, where forest officials cremated her.
Kerala’s chief wildlife warden on Wednesday described it as an “intentional act to kill the elephant”, NDTV reported. “We have registered a case against unknown offenders and very soon you will hear of the arrests,” Chief Wildlife Warden Surendra Kumar said.
Kumar said a high-level team has been appointed to investigate the killing. “As a guardian of wildlife animals throughout Kerala, it’s very saddening for me,” he said. “On behalf of the entire department, I express my deep regret over the incident. I hope people will be more sensitive – after all, most consider human beings superior.”
The death of a second elephant has also been reported from Kerala. A young female elephant died in April in a similar manner in the forests in Kollam district, NDTV reported on Wednesday. The elephant’s autopsy showed that her jaw was broken, and that she could have died due to something she had consumed. “We suspect it to be crackers,” a senior forest official told the news channel.
Kumar said that there were similarities between the two deaths. “Both had injuries in the mouth,” he said. “Possibility is that someone tried this [fireworks] on the elephant. But the evidence is not there. Sometimes farmers use crackers wrapped in jaggery. But they are small crackers. Usually elephants don’t die with that.”
Maneka Gandhi attacks Kerala government, Rahul Gandhi
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Maneka Gandhi attacked the Kerala government and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi. “Every week an elephant dies of beating in Kerala,” she told reporters. “They should sack the chief wildlife warden. They should arrest everyone they suspect in Malappuram because they are repeat offenders.”
Gandhi also tweeted claiming that Malappuram is known for its criminal activity. She alleged that no action has ever been taken against a wildlife poacher. Many people pointed out that the incident occurred in Palakkad district and not Malappuram.
Maneka Gandhi attacked Rahul Gandhi, an MP from Wayanad in Kerala, for not taking any action. “The forest secretary should be removed,” she said. “If the minister had any sense, he should’ve resigned. He is from that area, why has he not taken any action? Rahul Gandhi is from that area. Why has he not taken any action?”
The BJP leader claimed that temples kill elephants in Kerala by beating them. “They take the elephants on a parade in the heat and if the elephant moves around because it is agitated, they hit the animal badly,” she alleged. “Many get elephants, take an insurance, then injure the elephant that it gets gangrene and when it dies they can claim the insurance money.” She claimed that 600 elephants were killed every year in the state.
Industrialist Ratan Tata called the death “meditated murder”, and sought justice for the animal. “I am grieved and shocked to know that a group of people caused the death of an innocent, passive, pregnant elephant by feeding the elephant with a pineapple filled with firecrackers,” he tweeted. “Such criminal acts against innocent animals are no different than acts of meditated murder against other humans.”