Meera Bhardwaj:

In the past few years, the state of Tamil Nadu in India has turned into a “Killing Field” for its elephant population. 

The recent heinous torching of an ailing tusker in the Masinagudi area of Mudhumalai Tiger Reserve that resulted in its death on January 19 has sent shock waves in the country with activists and environmentalists demanding a thorough probe and strict punishment for offenders. 

The post mortem report has revealed that the 40-year-old tusker had sustained severe burn injuries on its ears. As it is, the tusker was suffering from serious injuries on its back in the last two months. 

The traumatized and extremely weak Masinagudi elephant died when it was being transported to the Theppakadu elephant camp. Activists stressed that it was unable to bear the stress and strain of its capture, tranquillization and transportation due to its serious injuries caused by burns and infection.

The continuing deaths of Tamilnadu elephants due to disease, arsenic poisoning, explosive baits and electrocution in Coimbatore forests, Nilgiris and Satyamangalam Sanctuary is a cause for serious concern and needs independent investigation and Central action. But alas! Environmentalists bemoan that the MoEF&CC is keeping quiet despite an elephant being so brutally torched and done to death. The seriously injured pachyderm was found by forest guards in Masinagudi in a bleeding condition but before it could be taken and administered treatment, it died a very painful death. 

Expressing their deep anguish and shock at the incident, wildlife activists, experts and ecologists said, “We have allowed this to happen. The tusker was tortured by local people and resort owners to no end as it had a tendency to venture into hamlets abutting the Mudhumalai sanctuary Added to this, the badly injured tusker died when it was being rescued and transported by forest officials.” 

Meanwhile, a forest guard of the Tamil Nadu forest department who was responsible for looking after the tusker shed tears and bid an emotional adieu to the gentle giant.

Bidding Goodbye

According to local activists, the elephant which was suffering from an ear ailment and was frequently rubbing itself against tree trunks, had accidentally strayed into a hamlet in the Masinagudi area. Seeing the pachyderm as the video below clearly reveals, two or three people working in a resort threw a burning cloth or tyre which attached and set the gentle mammal’s ear on fire. In agony, the animal ran here and there and then finally disappeared from the hamlet.

The Tusker torched by barbaric resort staff

Activists stated, “It could not withstand the trauma of the capture operations. It collapsed even as it was being taken to the elephant camp. Authorities at Project Elephant were mute spectators.”

For the forest officials, it was just another man-animal conflict incident, as elephant deaths are common happenings in Tamil Nadu’s forest landscapes, activists angrily stated.

The tusker being transported for treatment

Day in and day out, reports of elephant killings by poisoning, torching, shooting and electrocution has made news headlines in Tamilnadu. 

The state is home to more than 2700 elephants (2017 census) but has seen a 30 per cent marked decline in its population for a variety of reasons. In 2012, the state had a population of 4015 elephants. Elephants are distributed in four tiger reserves as also in the forest circles of Dharmapuri, Madurai and Virudhnagar.

In fact, in 2020, the Pandemic year, the state has seen the death of nearly 64-65 elephants. Also, Coimbatore wildlife division alone has seen 17 elephant deaths. Out of this, 8 deaths occurred in Sirumugai range.

If 20 deaths have occurred in Satyamangalam tiger reserve, 10 have died in Krishnagiri circle. Further, there have been serious allegations by wildlife activists in TN that female elephants are being systematically eliminated by resort owners, farmers, local people and others. 

Between 2001-2015, Tamil Nadu state has witnessed the death of 1113 elephants.

Year        No of Elephant deaths

2018                    84

2019                  105

2020                    65

2021-Jan              01               

On their part, Tamilnadu (TN) forest officials have said “Now through intelligence gathering and investigation, we have got proof of how fire injury was caused to the elephant. Based on the proof, we have apprehended two persons – Prasath and Raymond Dean belonging to Mavanallah village. Another person Ricky Rayan is also involved in the case and we are searching for him. A case has been registered against these three persons under various sections of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The two offenders have been remanded to custody.”

However, TN activists and wildlife NGOs across southern states are inconsolable and lament, “We have failed to get officials at Project Elephant and TNFD to intervene. Those who wanted to drive away the tusker have been successful in killing the animal. Project Elephant, if it is truly empowered, should call for an inquiry. The local forest officer should be hauled up as there have been frequent deaths of elephant, tiger, leopard, wild dogs and bears in Masinagudi. The culprits who killed the elephant should be convicted for this heinous crime.