The tragic death of a temple elephant after it was stuck in a marsh at Kochi has sparked protests from animal rights campaigners, alleging that neglect by the Wildlife Department was responsible for the incident.

The tusker, Ayyappankutty, sank into the marshy patch at Edakochi after it ran amok on Thursday. It died after struggling for several hours in the slush while rescuers tried to rescue it using ropes. Though it was finally lifted out of the marsh, the tusker died while being administered medicine.

The Wildlife Department has ordered an inquiry into the incident, official sources here said.

Rights groups, however, said the tusker could have been saved had the department intervened in time.

“There were serious lapses about the way the rescue was conducted. In the first place, those called in were a group of people who did not have any expertise on rescuing elephants in situations like this,” K V Venkitachalam, president of Thrissur-based Elephant Lovers Association, told PTI. Though top officials of the Wildlife Department were alerted, they did not bother to act in seriousness till the situation slipped out of hand, he said.

Ayyapankutty of Sankaramkulangara temple in Thrissur was brought to Kochi for a local festival. It ran amok around midnight on Wednesday and got trapped in the marshy ground, where it sank. It took about 12 hours before it was lifted in a highly exhausted condition after which it died.

According to animal rights activists, though there are rules on the conduct and maintenance of captive elephants, they are breached more often than not by owners and festival organisers with the officials concerned turning a blind eye.

“This particular case has thrown up several questions. First, was there prior permission of DFO before the elephant was brought to Kochi, as stipulated by the rules? Was the district administration was informed immediately after the tusker ran into trouble ? Were standard rescue procedures followed? It is for the Wildlife Department to answer these questions,” Mr Venkitachalam said.

He said in the past there were two instances of elephants being saved in similar situations by deploying right people at the right time and applying right methods, campaigners said. “The probe ordered by the department is not going to be effective unless it seeks to find answers for these questions,” they added.

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