The pregnant elephant and the bomb in the pineapple

Student Opinion : Punarnava Malhotra

One female elephant wandered, away from her herd, in search of healthier pastures for the baby in her womb. If nine months is painful for humans, female elephants carry their young ones for over 22 months of the gestation period (longest of any mammal alive today). Soon as they’re born, like a ritual, where the herd collects around the female in labor to witness the miracle of birth, the mother helps the young one stand up on its legs.

They were living peacefully in the dense canopies of Nilgiri Hills, a tropical forest. It is unusually quiet, rarely buzzing with insects, hence the name Silent Valley. This place is a haven for animals and life sciences experts alike.

The 15-year-old female elephant was optimistic as she wandered outside her protected region. She found a harmless, sweet fruit. But, unknown to the art of deception, as she ate the forbidden pineapple, the bomb inside exploded, while severely wounded her mouth and tusks. No story ever mentioned such fruits in any tale of history. The explosive compound is called Panni-Padakkam, identified as a mix of Potassium Chlorate and Arsenic Sulphide held together by plastic wires.

These lethal explosives are wrapped in a cloth with fruits and then used as baits by farmers to protect their farmlands from wild bores and pigs. Several pigs die in similar mode every day when they chew the bait laden fruit. This certainly does not makes this practice any less evil when there are plenty of simple methods to protect the farm.

And it is also believed that elephants have a keen smell that detects water from 12 miles away and can even recognize bombs through the trunk. It was highly unlikely for an elephant to feed onto such fruits. And these baits were safer to use. Hence, the forest officials were shocked when they arrived at the river on 30th May.  They suspect a case of conspiracy against an elephant. The perpetrators deliberately cleared off the spikes from the pineapple and fed it to her.

The elephant wandered inside the village in pain and agony. She had blood flowing out of the wounds, yet without hurting anyone on her way, or breaking any village house, she continued through the streets. She was in severe pain, but that doesn’t mean that she would be inflicting the same pain on anybody else. Walking in torturous pain, seemingly severe burn, and she was suffering too much to feel any hunger now. This happened a few days before her death. She walked her way towards the Velliyar River. Hopeful that the water will cure her of the ailments. She was not wrong. Water is a marvelous drink, and hydration does heal a lot of kidneys, respiratory and yeast infections. But in her case, it helped keep all the further infectious flies away as she held her trunk dipped inside the river, with a slight relief from throbbing pain.

Until the forest officers found her, they employed two Kumki elephant in an attempt to draw her out of the water. These are the trained elephants who help capture wild elephants, sometimes to provide medical assistance. Sadly she discarded all advances. An officer said that she might have had a sixth sense compelling her that she will die soon.

It had already been nearly two weeks of excruciating pain, and these giant mammals have even greater memory. I believe she could not forget the intense trauma and the horrific moment when the compound exploded inside her mouth.

While tasting their own blood and tissues, how can someone still have any faith left in life?!

She spent the remaining days standing in the river, forgot all the hunger in this new quest of survival, which was unknown to her in the wild.

The autopsy report says she stopped eating, all she had was river water overflowing around her in abundance. And she died at 4 pm, 27th May, as she collapsed in the water, followed by inhalation of water, resulting in lung failure.

Nothing was peaceful at this point! She died with a strong will to survive.

Elephants play a significant role in the tourism industry of Kerala, where even the citizens travel from North towards South to view the giant mammals. These mammals are also often seen on roads. And they are often treated in every household they visit. Keralites are so obsessed with these enchanting beings.   Moreover, they are protected by Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Humanism is still intense, but once in a while, we hear a similar case of cruelty against animals. The people who commit these acts for their pleasure are a sadist and a threat to humanity everywhere. If they can’t treat an animal right, they will never learn to act ethically among humans.

The question is if justice shall be served? If we let this case go, there will be plenty more in the future. Can we risk these felons walking the streets again with no strings of the past? Or set a household example for people on what happened to the locals who fed harmless animals with crackers—telling them that the actions are strict against the animal cruelty in India!

Culprits can be prosecuted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 with imprisonment no less than three years, extending up to 7 years and fine no less than 10,000 rupees or both.

This female elephant was respectfully cremated by the officials. And an FIR has been lodged against the unknown perpetrators. If the movement is strong enough, a real change will be seen—consequently, a better country for humans and animals alike.

Though a culprit has been arrested and other detained by the Forest Department of Kerala, however, it is yet to be seen that justice is delivered to the innocent jumbo and her unborn child.


Punarnava Malhotra studies literature at a college of Delhi University and is an environmentalist in her little way.

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