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`Bulldozer’ elephant snared to death in Kerala

A tusker-less male wild elephant, widely named by locals as “Bulldozer” because it broke down houses in search of food, was found dead due to serious injuries in mouth suspected to have been caused by an explosive.

The elephant had, in fact, been attended to and treated by a senior Veterinarian of the Kerala forest department last month but the pachyderm had retreated back to its home state, Tamil Nadu.

Four days ago, he wandered into the other side of the inter-state boundary, near Marappalam, Palakkad district, collapsed and died. “It is just about 500 metres from the Tamil Nadu boundary,’’ Sunil Kumar, Divisional Forest Officer at the Mannarkadu division, Kerala, told The Lede.

The official had also investigated the death of the 15-year-old pregnant elephant who had stood in a Velliyer river in the Palakkad side of the Mannarkkad forest for three days with her mouth under the water.

The elephant had refused to move even when trained elephants tried to nudge her for medical treatment. It was only during the post-mortem that the doctors realised that she got some relief from the water because she had chewed an explosive-laden coconut that the farmers had used to snare wild boars.

“The male elephant was around 25 years in age,” said Sunil Kumar.

And, it had a reputation in and around Sholyur region of Palakkad as well as on the Tamil Nadu side of the forest. “Bulldozer” was widely known damage houses like a bulldozer.

“It used to come to our side of the boundary three-four times every year. This year it damaged 21 houses within a short span of time. As a result of this, the forest department had got special permission to radio collar him so that we could track its movements accurately,” Sunil Kumar said.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that. We tried in July to get this done, following the vast damages it caused. But after July 23 the elephant wandered away into Tamil Nadu,’’ he said.

“Around the third week of August, just before the Onam, “Bulldozer”, reappeared near Sholayur. It was clear to us that it had a wound in its mouth and was unable to eat or drink. This would have been around ten days from now,” he said.

“We tranquilized it and treated its wounds after which it went back into the Tamil Nadu side,” says Sunil Kumar.

“At that time also it entered habitations and damaged two houses here. After moving to the Tamil Nadu side also it destroyed eight structures there. One person was also killed by it. It was not a direct attack by the animal but when it bulldozed a shop, a person who was sleeping lost his life,” he said.

“The animal was known for such incursions on either side of the boundary even otherwise. It was a kind of a rogue,” says Sunil Kumar.

And it was such behaviour which led to the proposal to radio collar the animal so as to enable department officials to scare it away from human habitations where it frequented to steal food and other consumables from shops and houses.

No hopes of survival

Dr. Arun Zacharia, the Chief Forest Veterinary Officer (in-charge) of Kerala, who was involved in tranquilizing the animal and treating him, said that the animal was in a bad condition.

“At the time that we treated it in the third week of August, the wound was pretty deep and there were signs of what I believe was the starting of pneumonia. There was puss and visible infection. It was also spreading widely. It was, at least, seven to eight days old,’’ Dr. Zacharia, told The Lede.

Sunil Kumar, Divisional Forest Officer at Mannarkadu division of Palakkad says they did what was possible when the elephant had been spotted with the injury.

“The elephant returned three days back,” says Sunil Kumar. “The animal was really weak at the point and there was no point in tranquilizing it again,” said Sunil Kumar.

He said the cause of death “in all likelihood is an explosive filled snare.’’

Snared again

“Sometimes these traps are kept for other animals and elephants become victims. On the other side of border, in Tamil Nadu, some farmers do keep it specifically to get rid of the elephant menace. We don’t know for sure what happened though,” Sunil Kumar said.

“It is highly likely that the injury was caused by an explosive snare. But we can confirm it once the post mortem is completed. The injuries were consistent with that caused by explosives,” said Dr Zacharia.

“The injuries it carried were consistent with that caused by explosives,” he concurs.

“We don’t have actual numbers as to how many have died in similar fashion this year but a young elephant had also died in the area in the last one month,” said a senior officer working with a national agency overlooking wildlife crime control, on condition of anonymity.

“This year alone, this is the third such case that I have come across,” says Dr Zacharia. One was the female elephant in Ambalapara which gained national attention because it was pregnant.

Will we see Ambalappara repeat in Marappalam

But, in the most sensational case of animal torture, the wheels of justice have moved very slowly. The main accused in the case, the father- son duo, are still at large. The one man who was arrested, Winson, is a worker on the rubber plantation where the coconut-laden explosive was used as the snare by the father-son owners of the plantation.

“Winson is still in Mannarkkadu under their custody,’’ said his brother-in-law, Appukkuttan.

In the case of the male elephant, the forest department suspects that the injury was sustained on the other side of the boundary, in Tamil Nadu.

Once the post-mortem is completed, the cause of death of the “Bulldozer’’ will be known. But, the person responsible for entrapping the animal, as is suspected at this point of time, may still get away.

At this point of time, the “Bulldozer’’ rests by the roadside, possibly, in relative peace from the “deadly’’ human beings.

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