Elephant became Collateral Damage in the Fight against Crop Raiding Boars

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Authored by - Mr. Swamitra Devendra Kamble

Designation - Student, Maharashtra National Law University

The recent incident which took place in the State of Kerala of a female wild elephant falling prey to crude bait meant for wild boar sheds light on the widespread issue of human-wildlife conflict in the state. Scientifically decimating crop-raiding nuisance animals, or vermin, involve a posh and prolonged official method in Kerala. Small scale farmers across the state are finding wild boars as a serious threat to their crops and livelihood.

In the absence of simple permissible measures to ward off the threat, farmers explore alternatives that are often illegal. During a situation like this, different animals, especially elephants, become unintended targets of crude practices to move away crop-raiding wild boars.

This was the case with the recent deaths of two wild elephants in Palakkad and Kollam districts of Kerala. Although the Palakkad incident created giant-scale media and political sensation globally, news of the Kollam incident was comparatively lesser widespread.

“In both the incidents, female elephants that had ingested food materials stuffed with native crude bombs were viciously killed,’’ observes noted environmental activist and advocate, Harish Vasudevan.

The two elephants, one among them pregnant, were the uncaused targets within fight between native little scale farmers in Kerala and also the state’s numerically strong wild boar population.

As per statistics accessible with Kerala’s Forest Department, the wild boar population within the state has redoubled from 40,963 in 1993 to 60,940 in 2002. However, it unfit to 48,034 in 2011 mostly owing to surround destruction, human interference, deforestation, and climate change. As per a survey conducted by the department in 2019, the state currently has around 58,000 wild boars.

Politicized elephant death has twists in the case:

Meanwhile, the elephant death in Palakkad won international attention because of angry responses from Bharatiya Janta Party’s Maneka Gandhi, industrialist Ratan Tata and several Indian film actors. As of the latest investigations into the case, there are some discrepancies compared to the initial claims in media reports.

The veterinary surgeon who conducted the autopsy confirming that the elephant had not consumed pineapple filled with a crude bomb as was widely portrayed. Talking to Mongabay-India, operating surgeon David Abraham said the pregnant wild elephant drowned following lung failure caused by inhalation of water.

“There were major wounds in its oral cavity and which might have occurred due to an explosive blast. As a result, she couldn’t eat for about two weeks, leading to her collapse in the river and subsequent drowning. The unhealthy wounds and injuries in the oral cavity had caused localized infection and resulted in agonizing pain. Severe debility and weakness have resulted within the final collapse and drowning,’’ he said.

According to U. Ashiq Ali, the investigating officer of the concerned forest department, evidence gathered so far has indicated that the crude bomb was stuffed in coconut to target wild boars. An estate owner, his son and a plantation worker under them have been accused so far in connection with the killing and the worker confessed that the target was not the elephant but crop-raiding wild boars.

Human-wildlife conflict and the quest for coexistence:

Though Kerala has achieved significant gains in conservation and elephant protection, human-animal conflicts involving elephants repeatedly occur within the Western Ghats region passing through Kasargod, Kannur, Wayanad, Malappuram, Palakkad, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Kollam districts. Wayanad, Attappady region in Palakkad and Idukki typically witness crop-raiding by elephants and violent getting even by farmers.

“There isn’t any explanation in terming all farmers as haters of wildlife. During September last year, farmers in Pulpally and Sulthan Bathery regions of Wayanad had organized silent processions and acknowledgment conferences to mourn the death of Maniyan, a wild tusker that lived among them without engaging in any clash. In Attappady, tribal local residents are demanding the return of their favorite wild elephant Peelandi, who was captured and relocated due to crop raiding and posing threat to human lives. Co-existence is feasible and the forest department is obligated to make sure that,’’ aforementioned environmental activist Boban Mattumantha.

As per information available from the forest department, there are attempts to further dilute the process to kill wild boars in the state.  However, wildlife conservationists are opposing that move on the ground that further relaxation would open the door for unchecked poaching and spawn a black market for wild meat. They say marauding sounders (herd of wild swine) destroy crops more than wild boars and elephants.

“The number of wild boars must be strictly regulated. However, at constant time, we tend to not forget the fact that they represent a very important link within the food web of carnivores. Indiscriminate killing of wild boars would cause to dwindling of its population and upset the organic phenomenon. If it happens, there would be ecological imbalances,’’ warns a senior forest official who preferred anonymity. He also fears that the order may eventually be extended to other crop-raiding animals.

However, the omnivorous animal’s population is multiplying fast across the state. A nocturnal feeder, the boars mostly raids plantains, fallen coconuts and tubers including tapioca, colocasia and elephant yam. They also dig up turmeric and ginger plants and paddy fields to feed on grubs. Over a dozen human casualties due to wild boar attacks have been reported in the state in the last five years.

Farmers are using cable wires, neem cakes, barbed wires, bamboo fencings, fishnets and firecrackers to illegally fight the porcine menace. As far as wildlife experts are concerned, selective culling is a possible option to control the burgeoning population of the wild pig. Also what matters most is ending human interferences in the buffer zones of forests. Unscrupulous quarrying and unscientific expansion of roads must be prohibited.

Why are wild animals leaving their territories?

In Kerala, tigers, leopards, gaurs and bears are also entering human settlements, along with wild boars and elephants. All such incidents are connotative the actual fact that wild animals are forced to leave their territories when disturbed by humans or nature. Their intrusion into human habitations should be controlled solely by strengthening the habitats and guaranteeing enough food and water.

Official records show that Kerala has a forest cover of 11,309 sq km. It comprises 29.1 percent of the state’s total area. Of this, 9,107 sq km comprise reserve forests and 1,837 sq km, vested forests and ecologically fragile lands.

“Encroachment on forests, blocking of natural wildlife corridors for constructions and setting up of tourist resorts have hampered the free movement of wild animals in their own natural habitats. Habitat restoration is the scientific long term solution,’’ said N. Badusha of Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithy.

According to official data released by the forest department last year, human-animal conflicts increased in Kerala from 6,022 cases to 7,229 between 2016 and 2018. “In the conflict zones, locals are adopting various illegal mitigation methods and they include erecting electric fences and building trenches. Crude bombs are now turning a less expensive deterrent,” opines forest and wildlife expert O. P. Nameer.

According to him, now there is a trend among rich people in cities to buy land close to forest fringe areas at cheaper prices to start rubber plantations and they have scant regard for the environment. What makes the situation disturbing in Kerala is the ideological upper hand managed by the encroachment lobby in recent years. Political parties use them as vote banks and engage in appeasement tactics. Wildlife and habitat conservation meanwhile, takes a backseat.

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