The pregnant Kerala elephant that died in Palakkad district had eaten a coconut filled with explosives. This was likely placed as a snare for wild boars in the forest-bordering plantation, a top police source confirmed to TNM.
So far, one accused has been arrested in the killing of the elephant. Wilson, a rubber-tapper in his forties, worked at an estate located in Kappuparambu Challikal in Mannarkad. Kappuparambu estate is located in Palakkad district. The alleged owners of the estate, who are also suspects in the case, are identified as Abdul Kareem and Riyazuddin. They are currently on the run.
On Friday, eye-witnesses who watched the evidence collection procedure unfold at the Kappuparambu estate told TNM that a few explosive materials, possibly used to make snares to catch wild boars and other game, were seized from a shed inside the plantation.
“The accused, Wilson, had also made a confession to the police that he had set up the snare for wild boars inside a coconut on May 12, which the animal could have consumed causing the soft explosion in its mouth,” Shameer Parakode, a member of the volunteer group who along with the forest department had monitored the elephant before its death.
According to Shameer, the 15-year-old injured elephant was spotted inside the Velliyur river at Theyamkundu in the Ambalapara area of Mannarkkad taluk in Palakkad on the morning of May 25 itself. Locals including him who observed a stench around the animal, noticed that its mouth region, all the way down to its jaw bone was wounded and even festering.
“She had dipped her mouth inside the river, and it looked like the cool water was easing her pain,” Shameer adds.
From May 25, locals and the forest department officials tried to get the pregnant elephant to go back into the forest. “As is usual practice, the forest department officials used firecrackers, beat drums, etc to scare her back into the woods. But she wasn’t willing to get out of the river, possibly because of her injuries,” Shameer adds.
In the wee hours of the following day (May 26), the visibly agitated elephant which had trudged out of the river and hid inside a bamboo grove, ran towards the colony at Manalappuram in Ambalapara. However, it did not attack any house and soon enough, waded back into the river, he says. Following this, the Divisional Forest Officer, Mannarkad, Sunil Kumar and forest ranger U Ashique Ali arrived at the scene.
“We had fenced off both sides of the river to ensure that she did not enter the colony again and frighten the residents. The forest department officials too stood vigil,” Appukuttan, another resident of Ambalapara told TNM.
On May 27, two days after she was spotted first in the river, the department summoned a veterinary doctor to examine the animal’s wounds.
“The doctor, upon examination, concluded that she was not healthy enough to be tranquilised and treated. Tranquilising her in the river could also increase her chances of drowning, as she had refused to get out of the water,” Shameer said, adding that the poor animal which was 15-years old had shrunk to the size of a 6-year-old after starving for days.
“It probably would not have had food or water for 20 days,” he says.
The following day, on May 27, two Kumki (tame) elephants were brought to pull the injured elephant out from the river. But by then, local residents realised that it was too late.
“The kumki elephants from Dhoni in Palakkad (44 kms away) were brought to Ambalapara at around 1.30 pm. They were fed plantain leaves and given water after their journey and allowed to rest for a few hours. But by 4.05 pm, the pregnant injured elephant slanted to the deep end of the river and began to drown,” Shameer adds.
The animal was dragged to the shallow part of the river by local and forest department officials using a rope, following which she was declared dead by the veterinary doctor on duty.
Her post mortem, done on May 28 morning, revealed that she was one-month pregnant.
The report stated that the “cause of death was due to lung failure as the result of water filling the lungs and drowning. As per the report, the elephant's mouth and oral cavity had suffered from extensive wounds most likely caused by an explosive blast, which had resulted in a septic infection.”
Her remains were then taken to Kacheriparambu, where she was buried in the reserve land used by the forest department, and her month-old foetus in a pit adjacent to her grave.