A PREGNANT elephant that ate a fruit, believed to be a pineapple, stuffed with explosives, a trap that villagers are reported to use to protect crops and houses, died from severe burn injury inside her mouth in south Kerala in India on May 27, as the media widely reported on June 3. The elephant, after having been injured, had run in searing pain through the village streets reportedly for days but without harming any humans or trampling any house before she stood in a river, as photographs posted on social media show, dunking her mouth and trunk in the water for hours and died. The elephant remained unmoved even after two captive elephants had been brought to lead her out of the river. The event, which rightly caused an outrage on social media, left a bad taste in mouth, within India and beyond. The incident is believed to have largely resulted from people’s fear of wild animals straying into human settlements and causing devastation, in some cases, as has also been reported earlier. A similar incident was reported a month ago when a female elephant was found with serious mouth injuries in a district nearby the one where the latest incident took place.
Humans would certainly try to protect their fields and houses from wild animals. Yet, using traps that could kill wild animals is not certainly the way to deter them. This is much too inhumane. Besides, wild animals are not solely responsible for their straying into human settlements in search of food. India, where the incident in question has taken place, lost vast swathes of forest to urbanisation in recent decades, forcing animals closer to human settlements and pushing them into conflicts with humans. Elephants are reported to have killed 2,361 people in 2014–2019 and humans killed 510 elephants in the period — 333 from electrocution and about 100 more from poaching and poisoning in India. In Bangladesh, 62 elephants are reported to have been killed in such human-elephant conflicts in 12 years and a half since 2003; 226 people are also reported to have been killed in the conflicts in the period, as New Age reported in August 2015. The Bangladesh government is reported to have been working out what could be done to mitigate the human-elephant conflicts because of not only the loss of human lives but also the population of wild elephants, then already considered a critically endangered species in Bangladesh, was likely to become extinct, not perhaps in two to three decades but over a longer period, in view of the shrinking habitat and food resources for the elephants and the indifference and insensitivity that humans show towards wild animals.
Human-elephant conflicts are a phenomenon in many countries and all governments must put in efforts to mitigate such incidents, working beyond the immediate problem. And humans must understand that they do not need to fight wild animals to deter them.
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