Forest Department orders probe into elephant's death

PATHANAMTHITTA, FEB. 26. The Forest department has registered a case in connection with the death of a 45-year-old captive elephant belonging to a timber merchant at Panangad near Pandalam in suspicious circumstances on Monday.

The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), P.K.Surendranathan Asari, told The Hindu that the department has taken serious note of the issue and would take stern action against the ward and mahouts of the deceased elephant.

Mr. Asari said that the Conservator of Forests, K.J.Varghese, has been directed to probe into the elephant death and the owner of the deceased pachyderm would be taken into custody soon.

Talking to The Hindu , Mr. Varghese said that a case has been registered against the owner of the deceased elephant, invoking the relevant provisions in the Wild Life Protection Act and the Kerala Captive Elephant Management and Maintenance Rules.

The elephant, Manikantan, belonged to Messrs Rajan Timbers at Panangad near Kulanada and had died on the road near the Pandalam Bridge.

There were reports that the elephant, which was taken for a bath in the River Achenkoil at Pandalam, was cruelly dealt with by the three mahouts who were attending it.

The three mahouts were in an inebriated condition, according to many eyewitnesses. The pachyderm had cut injuries on its leg and head, besides contusions all over its body.

Many local people who witnessed the incident, say that the mahouts ran away as soon as the elephant fell. What is more strange is that the elephant carcass was removed at night to an `unknown destination', even without informing the Wild Life authorities concerned.

Meanwhile, the Divisional Forest Officer at Ranni, when contacted, had responded in a casual manner saying that `the range officer concerned has been asked to register a case.'

However, the Forest department top brass in Thiruvananthapuram had acted on the basis of press reports as well as complaints from the Elephant Lovers, a Thrissur-based non-governmental organisation.

In his memorandum to the PCCF, the Elephant Lovers general secretary, V.K.Venkitachalam, urged the Union Ministry of Forests as well as the State Forest department to initiate a detailed inquiry into the incident and bring the culprits to book without any further delay.

The reported removal of the elephant carcass in haste, without obtaining the mandatory consent of the Forest department, was illegal and a criminal offence as per the law, Mr Venkitachalam said.

The treatment reportedly meted out to the elephant by the three mahouts was an act tantamount to cruelty to the pachyderm and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (SPCA) should take stringent action against the owner and mahouts of the deceased elephant, he added.

Though the owner of the elephant is supposed to deposit its tusk once the pachyderm dies, the whereabouts of the tusk of the elephant is not known even to the Forest authorities here.

There were also allegations of elephants being tortured to death for insurance claims.

The noted poet, Sugathakumari, has expressed deep concern over the death of the captive elephant and the reported cruelty meted out to it. She has also demanded a detailed inquiry into the incident and stern action against the culprits.