Editorial

Killing Gajah: On the killing of an elephant in Kerala

A culture of exploitation led to the painful death of an elephant in Kerala

An outpouring of grief has followed the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala, the treacherous use of a food bomb causing widespread revulsion and anger. Scores of elephants are killed every year in India as their paths cross those of humans, but the image of a mortally wounded animal standing impassively in a river in Palakkad as life ebbed out of it will remain imprinted on the mind. Whether the booby-trapped pineapple that took its life was intended for elephants or other animals matters little, because such traps litter the troubled landscapes that surround forests across the country. The tragic fate that befell this creature, however, is a ghastly reminder of the rising conflicts between humans and animals that are only destined to grow, as commercial pressures eat into already diminished habitat. The perpetrators may be prosecuted for the elephant’s death, but that can do little to mitigate the larger issue of lost ranges and blocked corridors for these wandering giants. India has thousands of elephants — just under 30,000 according to available counts — but no strong science-imbued policy that encourages soft landscapes and migrating passages that will reduce conflict. Ironically, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar invoked Indian culture to deplore what happened in Kerala, but it is the lack of a scientific culture and the readiness to spare forested lands from commercial exploitation that is eviscerating nature. Even during the lockdown in April, the Ministry convened video conference meetings of the National Board for Wildlife and the Expert Appraisal Committee to clear disruptive projects in protected areas.

Shrinking ranges and feeding grounds for elephants cause serious worry, because the animals look for soft landscapes adjoining forests such as coffee, tea and cardamom estates, and in the absence of these, wander into food-rich farms falling in their movement pathways. Research in Karnataka showed that 60% of elephant distribution was encountered outside protected areas. In Kerala, such movement along human-dominated landscapes routinely produces conflict. Unsurprisingly, politicians of many hues in the State were opposed to the Madhav Gadgil Committee Report calling for the entire Western Ghats to be classified as ecologically sensitive and spared of destructive development. With such fundamental philosophical disagreement, and a vision of verdant landscapes as nothing more than a resource to be exploited for minerals and cash crops, elephants and other creatures have little chance of escaping deadly conflict. A sensible course open to conservation-minded governments is to end all intrusion into the 5% of protected habitat in India, and draw up better compensation schemes for farmers who lose crops to animals. A culture shift to protect, rather than prospect, would genuinely enrich people and save biodiversity.

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 2:12:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/killing-gajah-the-hindu-editorial-on-the-killing-of-an-elephant-in-kerala/article31750497.ece

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