Kerala Police has arrested a farm worker named P Wilson as part of investigations into the death of a pregnant elephant in Ambalappara in Kerala last week.
Wilson, reportedly from Odakkali village, works at a plantation not far from where the elephant was found. In addition, two others have been detained and are being questioned, according to police sources.
The joint investigation team of Kerala Police and Kerala Forest Department have come to the preliminary conclusion that the elephant was the victim of an explosive laden fruit used by farmers, either in the immediate locality or in the Karuvarakkundu region adjacent to the Silent Valley National Park, a protected rain forest region of Kerala.
Investigations have revealed that people who conduct farming in the buffer zone area of the forest reserve routinely leave explosive-laden fruits to maim, kill and scare wild animals to prevent them from destroying their crops.
When the animal chews on the fruit, the explosive is triggered, killing smaller animals such as boars, and maiming bigger animals like elephants.
Investigations also revealed that forest officials in the nearby Karuvarakundu region had a few days ago found another elephant with similar injuries, and sent it for treatment.
Investigators are following leads into those who supply explosives to farmers for use against wild animals. More arrests, both of suppliers and farmers who use the explosives, are likely.
Investigators have reached the preliminary conclusion that the dead elephant may have been injured either in Karuvarakundu or Ambalappara. The two places are about 15 km apart. The injury is estimated to have taken place two weeks ago.
Most of Kerala’s hilly regions, such as Idukki and Wayanad, are home to extensive illegal encroachment on forests.
Over the past 50 years, many people from the plains — particularly from districts such as Kottayam and Pala — have moved to hill districts such as Idukki and Wayanad in search of farmland.
In the 1960s and 1970s, large chunks of the hills were cleared of forests and brought under plantation cultivation, usually rubber, cardamom and tapioca.
These farmers have since organized themselves into political outfits and have lobbied hard to get their encroachments regularized.
In between, the Kerala government had adopted a policy of regularizing all forest encroachments made up to 1977. However, encroachments continue to this day, leading to man animal conflicts such as the one seen last week. These so-called migrant farmers also conduct protests, dharnas and demonstrations seeking more regularization of their holdings.
Farmers, under the leadership of Father Sebastian Kochupurakkal of the Syro-Malabar Church (affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church) have successfully fought against the implementation of the Gadgil Report and Kasturirangan Report aimed at protecting the Western Ghats.
The Church too takes an active interest in such matters as the vast majority of the ‘migrant farmers’ in the hills are members of various Christian denominations.
‘Migrant farmers’ — so called as most of them trace their origins to the low-land districts of Kottayam, Pala etc — also enjoy considerable patronage from political parties, particularly the Congress-led United Democratic Front. They also have strong connections to local level leaders of the Left Front.