Two people have been arrested, but animal activists have called for better awareness to reduce man-animal conflict in the state.

Elephant with its head set on fire in Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu
news Wildlife Friday, January 22, 2021 - 18:46

Two days after a 40-year-old elephant in Tamil Nadu that was being taken to Theppakadu camp for treatment succumbed to its injuries, visuals have emerged that show a flaming stick land on the animal's head in between efforts to scare it away. The visuals show a few people attempting to drive the elephant away with a branch that was lit ablaze. At one point, the blazing branch is thrown, and it lands on the elephant. The flame spreads on the animal’s head, and he is seen fleeing the spot, trumpeting in pain. The fire caused fatal injuries to the elephant.

Officials had earlier told TNM that the elephant had wandered into Masinagudi in the Nilgiris, a popular tourist destination, looking for food, and had been injured for more than two months when the officials found it and had to tranquilise him. An autopsy that was conducted on the elephant after it died revealed that the pachyderm suffered severe injuries on the back about two months ago, and also had suffered burn injuries on the ears.

It has now emerged that the burn injuries were from two weeks ago when the elephant had wandered out of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve zone into a residential area in the hill town nearby at night. A video shows the elephant slowly backing away from the people who are holding a branch which has been lit on fire. A man, who is not seen in the frame and is presumably recording the video from a balcony, says, “Enough, enough. Just leave it for some time,” as a man on the ground tries to drive the elephant away with the fire. Another bystander asks if there is anything else to drive the elephant away, and suggests to set that object on fire as well. 

The elephant backs away from the fire, as the man holding the blazing branch continues to walk towards the animal until it reaches the road. This is when the branch which is on fire is flung and it lands on the elephant, who is heard loudly trumpeting twice loudly in pain and runs away. Another bystander then says, “That’s it, let it go die.”

Warning: Disturbing visuals

Three accused, the person who held the flaming branch and two others who supported him, have been booked. Two of them have been arrested, including the one who held the stick.

A press note by the Deputy Director of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve stated, “We received inputs and a video that shows the elephant getting injured by fire. Based on the proof today, we have apprehended two persons, Prasath (36) and Raymond Dean (28), who are from Mavanallah. One more person, Ricky Ryan (31), is also involved in this case, and a case has been registered against these three. The third accused is not in town and so the two persons detained were arrested today and will be sent for remand.” 

Speaking to TNM, Field Director of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve KK Kaushal said that the elephant already had injuries and was docile and weak. 

“That’s why it couldn’t move or respond immediately to stimuli. Its senses were getting weaker by the day. Hence for the past two months, it was roaming in the village without harming anyone,” he said. However, Kaushal noted, “The death could not have happened because of the burns.”

Denying that the accused were employees in a resort, the officer said that they were running a homestay in the region. “It is their house. In the upper floor, some two-three rooms have been rented by guests. It has no name and all,” he said. The arrested accused are in the process of being remanded. 

A few days ago, visuals of a forest officer crying and petting the deceased elephant had gone viral on social media. “Who will I talk to? Whom will I take care of? Oh god, I am sorry,” the weeping forest officer is heard saying, as he pats the elephant's trunk, he rests his head on the animal’s trunk, and mourns its death.

Lamenting the death of the elephant, animal rights activist Antony Rubin suggested that the state increase awareness about elephants and to ensure they are not attacked in such a manner. 

“The forest department should have driven the elephant inside since they knew it was roaming in the village for two months. The department has captured much younger and aggressive elephants before, so capturing this wouldn't have been a problem at all,” said Antony.

“The male-female ratio of elephants is in a worrisome state and the Forest Department must ensure that male elephants don't die like this. They should issue some SOPs to deal with the vanishing population of elephants, with the latest technology in veterinary science, and see that such issues are paid attention to at the earliest,” he added.

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