“When the pineapple or some fruit she ate exploded like a firecracker in her mouth, she may not have trembled thinking of her own life, but about the new life she was about to give birth in some months,” wrote Mohanan Krishnan, the section forest officer in Nilambur, on his Facebook page.
Mohanan was part of the Rapid Response Team, in charge of rescuing the 15-year-old pregnant elephant, who tried to eat a fruit in a forest area. Forest officials suspect the fruit was likely kept in a cruel practice of keeping a snare to capture wild boars, or in some cases, to keep away wild elephants. This incident is believed to have taken place two weeks ago in an area in Palakkad.
After days of excruciating moments following the incident, the elephant finally succumbed to her injuries and was cremated on May 27. According to the veterinary official who conducted her post-mortem, the elephant was one-month pregnant.
The wild elephant, which originally belonged to the Silent Valley National Park (SVNP) in Palakkad, had allegedly wandered in search of food and reached the bordering area in Malappuram. When the animal allegedly bit into the fruit stuffed with firecrackers, she was grievously injured. Her upper and lower jaws as well as tongue were mangled.
“She was probably hungry and pacing back and forth in search of food, maybe thinking about the child in her womb. She was probably unable to eat food with her torn mouth. She reached a village in search of more food. But, even with that agonising pain, she did not destroy any houses or injure any person. She was a good animal,” Mohanan wrote, describing the initial days after the incident.
When Mohanan reached the spot on May 27, the elephant was in the Velliyar river, with her mouth and trunk immersed in water. “She was frail and weak when I saw her. Her stomach was shrunk. She kept her wounded mouth immersed in water to probably keep away flies and other worms,” recounted Mohanan in his post.
The Rapid Response Team soon chalked out a plan to bring her ashore, give her treatment and save her. They brought in Surendran and Neelakantan, two Kumki elephants, to do the task.
“Everything was set. But I guess she had a sixth sense. Without letting us save her, she died, in a standing position, at 4 pm on May 27. We stood there, shocked,” said the forest official on his Facebook post, which went viral.
The team then had another task at hand, to give her a deserving final tribute. They managed to bring the body of the elephant ashore and put it in a lorry. As part of the official procedure, her body was sent for post-mortem.
“The doctor who performed her post-mortem told me, ‘she was not alone’. His voice was cracking when he told me that. Since he had worn a mask, I could not see his expression but I understood the emotion in that voice,” said Mohanan, who then realised that the elephant was pregnant.
Like everybody who saw the elephant before its death, Dr David Abraham, Assistant Forest Veterinary Officer, Thrissur, too, was unaware that she was conceiving. “It was when I noticed her enlarged uterus that I realised it had a one-month foetus. I removed its foetus. Emotionally, it was an unusual case for me,” Dr David, who is also in charge of the Palakkad division, told TNM.
The immediate cause of its death was suffocation as its lungs were filled with water. “Its jaws were mangled. It might not have had food or water, due to which it looked frail. Her wounds looked at least one-week-old. There was maggot infestation, too,” said Dr David.
The elephant was cremated the same day, along with its foetus.
The practice of keeping snares to catch wild boars over fears of destroying vegetation or incidents where elephants get injured in the process is not new, said a forest official, who did not want to be quoted.
However, per the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, wild elephants come under Schedule I, which are protected species. Any offences under this Schedule can attract a high penalty.
The death of the 15-year-old elephant is treated as an unnatural death, which is why its postmortem was conducted.
Samuel Pachuau, Wildlife Warden of Silent Valley National Park, told TNM that since the death took place outside its jurisdiction and since it is an unnatural death, the Mannarkkad police will register a case. “But we are also conducting a parallel probe to understand where these snares were set up, so that we could intensify patrolling in these areas, gather more intelligence and avoid such deaths in future,” Samuel said.
“Even as the entire mankind stands helpless before a virus like the coronavirus, I have only one thing to say, sorry,” Mohanan ended his post, which has received over 400 comments and 1,200 shares at the time of writing.
(Many officers clarified to TNM that the injured elephant was spotted on May 23 near a village called Ambalappara in Palakkad. On May 27, it was found by a team lead by the Forest Department in the Velliyar river in Palakkad. This is near the Palakkad- Malappuram border.)