The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on Monday said the pregnant elephant in Kerala’s Palakkad district may have died after “accidentally eating a fruit” stuffed with firecrackers. The ministry further took note of the illegal act of planting fruits laced with explosives to repel wild boars from entering plantation farms.

This came two days after an autopsy report revealed the elephant had major wounds in its oral cavity, which most likely occurred after an explosive went off in the mouth. The report added that the elephant was unable to eat for nearly two weeks before her death.

“Primary investigations revealed that the elephant may have accidentally consumed such fruit,” it said. “[The] Ministry is in constant touch with Kerala government and has sent them detailed advisory for immediate arrest of culprits and stringent action against any erring official that led to elephant’s death.”

The elephant, estimated to be a 15-year-old, died in the Velliyar stream in Palakkad on May 27. The wound was presumably caused by some explosives put in a fruit that the elephant ate, which was set as a trap by local farmers against wild animals. The incident has sparked outrage across the country and prompted a criminal investigation into cruelty towards animals.

Villagers in Kerala often use firecrackers or explosives stuffed in food to protect their fields from wild animals. The practice had been widely criticised.

“As of now, one person has been arrested and efforts are on to nab more individuals who may have participated in this illegal and utterly inhuman act,” the ministry added in a tweet. It further conveyed Minister of State for Environment Babul Supriyo’s request to people to not believe in social “rumours and fake news” circulating around the elephant’s death.

“The Kerala government and all departments concerned of the ministry are handling the matter in an unbiased manner,” it added. “We are confident of concluding the investigation sooner than later, to be followed by exemplary legal action and punishment that will act as strong deterrent to committing such future acts.”

The National Green Tribunal on Friday took suo motu cognisance of the elephant’s death and formed a committee, directing it to submit an action-taken report in the matter. The next hearing is scheduled for July 10. A bench of Justices K Ramakrishnan and Saibal Dasgupta also issued notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Kerala government and others. It sought their responses before July 10.

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