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Preliminary investigation reveals elephant ‘accidentally’ consumed explosive: Here is why that line of investigation does not make sense

Saying that the elephant 'accidentally' consumed explosives meant for another animal hints at normalisation of this cruel method that adversely affects forest life and neither the state government nor the environment ministry can be seen normalising this cruel practice.

Recently, the case of a pregnant elephant from Palakkad, Kerala dying after consuming a jaggery coated explosive came to the fore and led to widespread outrage. The picture, of the Elephant standing calmly in the water while she died, bit by bit, due to the explosives going off in her mouth was heart-wrenching. The initial outrage also revolved around whether this was a deliberate act to torture the elephant or was there more at play in this case.

The Elephant that died in Palakkad

One accused, P Wilson, who is an employee of an estate that cultivates cash crops and spices, has been arrested. Two other suspects, Abdul Kareem and son Riyasudheen, owners of the estate where Wilson worked are currently absconding.

The accused reportedly said to the interrogators that they had set up a trap of fruit filled with crackers to scare wild boars, which destroy their farms often. Evidently, it is common to practise in Kerala to use jaggery-coated explosives or explosives stuffed in fruits to “scare away” wild boars who enter farms and destroy crops.

However, the explanation itself is slightly dicey because there is no way to “scare” a wild boar or any animal by planting a jaggery-coated explosive. The aim is obviously for the animal to eat the fruit and the result would be fatal, as it was in the case of the elephant.

The explanations that have been issued by governments, state and central govt, are not convincing, to say the least. The latest one has been issued by the Environment Ministry headed by Prakash Javadekar. Presumably, this statement that has been issued by the Environment Ministry draws from the investigation that is being conducted by the Kerala government.

The Environment Ministry, in its statement first acknowledged that the method of planting explosive-filled fruits to trap wild boars who trample on plantations is ‘illegal’, however, the statement goes on to assert that the elephant might have ‘accidentally consumed the fruit’.

It is sort of a given that the elephant may have ‘accidentally consumed the fruit’. Elephants are not exactly equipped to investigate the quality of fruit before consumption or read instruction manuals. However, the question here is much larger and by the statement issued, it seems like the entire point is being missed by the Environment Ministry.

The pregnant elephant from Kerala was in the farmland and explosives were meant for any animal that entered the farmland

A News18 report says that the elephant was seen in farmland last, and the accused arrested works at the farmland. The two abscondings are the owners of that farmland. It has been established that the method of using jaggery-coated explosives to torture wild boars and drive them away from farmlands is a long-established illegal method that is used in Kerala.

So let us assume that the jaggery-coated explosive was already planted in the farmland to murder wild boars. Since the elephant was in the farmland, she must have consumed the very jaggery-coated explosive that was planted there.

Since the explosive obviously cannot have some sort of mechanism that it would allow it to explode only for wild-boars, any animal that consumes the explosive is bound to meet the fate that the pregnant elephant met.

Thus, to say that the elephant “accidentally consumed” an explosive meant for wild boars asks us to make certain wild assumptions.

Firstly, the theory expects us to assume that the farmland owner and worker would have removed the explosive had they own it would have been consumed by an elephant. The elephant, just like wild boars was in the farmland and to the workers and owners, it was likely just another animal ruining and trampling on their produce.

Unless evidence to the contrary emerges, we have to assume that just like the wild boar, the elephant trampling on the farmland was also intended to consume the explosives. There is no evidence yet to assume that the farmland owners and workers would be benevolent to the elephant and would have let her trample over their farmland.

Thus, there is no defence to be made out here about the elephant ‘accidentally’ consuming the explosive. The explosive was meant for any animal that trampled on the farmland and the pregnant elephant met the fate that was intended. It has only gained prominence because of the outrage that surrounded this case.

Kerala elephant death: Was it ‘deliberate’ or not?

The statement that says that the pregnant elephant ‘accidentally’ consumed the explosives has a definitive undercurrent. It essentially means that the rumour that she was deliberately fed the explosive is false.

She was perhaps not targeted singularly and nobody force-fed her the explosives, however, in this case, the definition of ‘deliberate’ has to be extremely different.

As explained above, the explosive was most likely meant for any animal that entered the farmland, and thus, it was a deliberate act of cruelty that was inflicted on the animals. It was not, for example, a firecracker for Diwali that was ‘accidentally’ consumed by the elephant. It was a jaggery-laden explosive that was consciously made to torture any animal, in this case the pregnant elephant, that wandered inside the farmland.

In that sense, it was certainly a deliberate act of cruelty and it should be seen as such when the investigation is being conducted.

The subject of investigation: The cruel method itself must form a part of it

The outrage surrounding the death of the pregnant elephant has put the spotlight in this cruel method employed by farm owners in Kerala. While the environment ministry is acknowledging that the method is illegal, it cannot put more emphasis on how the explosive was ‘accidentally’ consumed by the elephant. The line itself hints at exoneration and anyone employing these cruel methods do not deserve exoneration but punishment to the fullest extent of the law.

Saying that the elephant ‘accidentally’ consumed explosives meant for another animal hints at normalisation of this cruel method that adversely affects forest life and neither the state government nor the environment ministry can be seen normalising this cruel practice.

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