A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed before the Madurai bench of the Madras High court on Monday has alleged that at least 12 elephants in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve and Megamalai Wildlife Division have died under mysterious circumstances since 2012. The petitioner, advocate Manoj Immanuel, claims that while recent deaths of elephants have been attributed to electrocution, the real reason is poaching. He further tells TNM that forest officials are colluding with poachers, thus making it necessary for the National Wildlife crime control bureau to look into the case.
The PIL was first filed in September following a newspaper report that stated that four elephants had died in three months in Theni district due to suspicious circumstances. Of this, two elephants had allegedly died due to electrocution.
â€śInitially, it was believed that low-hanging cables within the forest area were responsible for the death of elephants. These cables were considered to be high voltage and we requested that they either converted to underground cables or raise the cables to a higher level," says the petitioner.
â€śBut soon we learnt, after independent study and talking to conservationists on the ground, that this was just a cover. We believe that the elephants are poached and killed; electrocution is used as a cover to hide this. So on Monday, we filed a miscellaneous petition demanding that the National Wildlife crime control bureau, which is a central body, take over,â€ť he adds.
In 2012, reports state that over 12 elephants were poached for ivory in Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve under the guise of electrocution. The Kerala Forest Department reportedly informed its Tamil Nadu counterpart about a poacher, who had confessed to killing an elephant but the matter was not acted upon. The Kerala officials were said to have apprehended one of the poachers, who reportedly confessed to the crime. Following the confession, Kerala Forest department brought this to the notice of Tamil Nadu Forest Department, but the State did not act on the information.
â€śSanctuaries and other reserve forest elephants and other animals are illegally hunted down by poachers for their ivory and hide, the death of such animals are easily misled by the forest officer as an accident due to low-hanging high voltages cables,â€ť states the petition submitted to the court. The respondents include the Union Government, the state government, TANGEDCO and wildlife warden of the reserves.
When TNM contacted TANGEDCO, they confirmed that they have laid out lines according to regulations and that they cannot be held directly responsible for the death of the elephants.
The Megamalai Wildlife Division meanwhile dismissed the allegations of poaching.
â€śThe post-mortem reports confirm the cause of death clearly. As directed by the court, we will submit the status report,â€ť says S Kalanithi, the wildlife warden. â€śAs far as transferring the case is concerned, we will have to wait for a judgement on the matter.â€ť