In a truly heart-breaking case of animal cruelty, a pregnant elephant and her unborn calf died after allegedly eating a pineapple stuffed with explosives. The elephant’s jaw shattered and she sustained serious burns to her tongue when the fruit detonated in her mouth.
What reads like a horror story, the incident came to light after a forest officer at Silent Valley National Park in Kerala, India, detailed the 15-year-old elephant’s last excruciating hours on social media.
Mohan Krishnan, who was part of the Rapid Response Team sent to assist the elephant, recalled on Facebook how he and his colleagues found her near the buffer zone of Silent Valley in Palakkad district on 27 May. Silent Valley is home to a population of wild elephants. The area is near farmland where locals sometimes scatter fruit spiked with homemade firecrackers to discourage animals from damaging crops.
Krishnan explained how the wild elephant had left the forest of Kerala's Silent Valley and meandered into a nearby village in search of food. Sears of pain could be heard across the village “for days” before authorities finally decided to assist the poor creature. By then it was too late. The elephant eventually made its way from the village to the Velliyar River and stood in the water, immobilized by pain.
“We brought two captive elephants to lead her out of the river. But I think she had a sixth sense. She didn't let us do anything," said Krishnan. “Hours later, the elephant died, still standing in water. Her body was later removed by a truck and she was cremated.”
Officials suspect that the elephant ate the fruit at the end of April or the beginning of May. The damage caused by the explosives left her unable to eat and she most likely starved to death. It has since emerged that another female elephant met with a similar fate in April in Kollam district after she also ate a firecracker-stuffed pineapple.
“Such fruit bombings have become common," said O.P. Nammeer, an expert on elephant conservation and professor of wildlife at Kerala Agricultural University. “People are getting into conflicts with animals and they resort to different mitigation methods - they put up electric fences, build trenches, or become more brutal and use a crude bomb. Cruelty apart, it is illegal. These are animals protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972."
However, it’s clear that the Act is simply not doing enough to protect elephants in the region. Animal activists have slammed the Kerala government for not taking animal cruelty seriously and highlighted the complete lack of urgency and complacency shown in this very tragic case.
“The argument of protecting crops at all costs does not even begin to explain or justify the cruelty this elephant endured. What happened here is nothing more than the blatant murder of an innocent creature,” said Network for Animals (NFA)’s executive director David Barritt. “This case is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s believed an elephant is killed every three days in Kerala. There are less than 20,000 elephants left in India - they are rapidly declining and urgently need our protection.”
Environmentalist and politician Maneka Sanjay Gandhi added that Mallapuram - a revenue district in Kerala - is infamous for its harrowing crimes against animals, particularly elephants.
“No action has ever been taken against a single poacher or wildlife killer so they keep doing it,” she said, outlining a document that revealed about 600 elephants were killed by the temples “by breaking their legs, beating and starving them”. Gandhi also claimed that private owners insured their elephants and then deliberately drowned them, or induced gangrene by inserting rusted nails into them, so they could claim insurance.