Initial investigations into the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala, who consumed a cracker-laden food item, in the state's Palakkad district have opened up the possibility of this being an accident; and not an intentional act, as earlier believed.
While reports suggested that someone had intentionally offered the cracker-laden food to the elephant, Surendrakumar - IFS and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Officer - said that it is unlikely that someone will offer pineapples to a wild elephant.
Surendrakumar added that it is possible that the animal ate the fruit or jaggery by mistake. Cracker-laden fruits like pineapple are kept by farmers to scare away animals from their fields.
“We are not sure how that blast has been caused. Investigation is on to find out whether it was caused by pineapple or jaggery-laden cracker and the samples are being tested,” Surendrakumar told Moneycontrol.
He explained that the preliminary report prior to the elephant’s post-mortem stated that there could have been a blast in the mouth that caused an injury.
The elephant's death had sparked off sharp reactions, both in India and internationally, with people taking to social media platforms to comment.
Well known personalities, including Tata Trusts Chairman Ratan Tata and celebrities such as Akshay Kumar, Anushka Sharma and Randeep Hooda, had voiced their concern.
The video of the incident went viral on social media and showed the elephant standing in a river with her mouth and trunk in the water, possibly to get some relief from the burn caused by crackers.
What would have possibly let the animal into this area?
Though Surendrakumar said that elephant sightings were common in the area, he added that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown may have caused more wild animals to come out of the forests and explore their surroundings.
“Lesser number of humans being sighted would have caused wild animals like this elephant to come out more often. However, generally these wild elephants do not cause any damage except eating a few crops and leaving,” he added.
In the particular area of Mannarkkad where the incident occurred, Surendrakumar said that elephant sightings are common and typically the animals are given their space.
Meanwhile, union minister of environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javadekar said that the central government has taken a very serious note of the killing of an elephant in Kerala.
"We will not leave any stone unturned to investigate properly and nab the culprit(s). This is not an Indian culture to feed firecrackers and kill," he added.
On the contrary, wildlife experts are of the view that it would be tough to catch the culprits in incidents like this.
Elephants walk up 150 kilometres per day and without any video evidence or close circuit cameras in these areas gathering evidence of possible suspects could be a challenge according to officials working in this field.
Forest authorities are taking efforts to ensure that there is no repeat of such incidents.
Surendrakumar said that through public awareness sessions, information is being collected about how the animal could have consumed this food product and to make sure that locals are aware of the best practices.
While he admitted that there has been a lot of human-animal conflicts in the area, the authorities are now trying to minimise conflicts.
“We have Jan Jagruta Samiti (public awareness committees) in Panchayats where we are having meetings. Even today (June 4), a meeting is being held in the area to collect further intelligence about the elephant’s death,” he added.Data from the Kerala State Forest Department showed that in 2017-18, there were 7,229 reported incidents of human-animal conflict in the state. The state paid total compensation of Rs 10.2 crore to wildlife attack victims in 2017-18.