New Delhi: A month before a male elephant died allegedly due to a bed of six-inch long metal spikes that the Army had laid down to deter pachyderms from damaging a military installation, the forest department had warned against the “cruel” measure that would “defeat the very point of wildlife protection”.
Meanwhile, the post-mortem report of the nine-year-old elephant might also hold answers to the “mysterious fatal injuries” of several elephants around Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, said the forest department.
“This type of cruel effort to keep elephants at bay is definitely going to defeat the very point of wildlife protection and preservation,” the forest department had written.
The report, accessed by News18, said the cause of death was “septicemia and fracture (of the leg)” while noting injuries to the elephant’s legs. However, it is the nature of the injuries which has led the forest department to conclude that the death was caused by a bed of six-inch long metallic spikes laid down by the Army inside its cantonment adjacent to the sanctuary.
The spiraling cases of man-elephant conflict have been a raging issue in Assam and adjacent areas of north Bengal. Since 2010, 249 elephants and 761 people have died in the state, with the rates of both human and elephant casualties increasing every year.
A Guwahati-based NGO has recently urged the Assam government to declare man-elephant conflict a disaster along the lines of the Uttar Pradesh government.
Pradipta Baruah, divisional forest officer, Guwahati Wildlife Division, told News18, “According to information, the Army hasn’t removed the bed of spikes. The nature of the injury sustained by the elephant establishes that the fatal wound was likely caused by it.”
However, Army sources said the spikes have been there since 2005 and there has been only one report of an elephant injury since then.
Forest department sources, however, said several other cases of elephant deaths have been recorded in the area, each with similar injuries.
Baruah said, “In such cases, the elephant doesn’t die in the same area where it gets injured. It travels to a different place. Hence, it is very difficult to establish the exact cause.”
An Army spokesperson denied commenting when contacted by News18.
Post-mortem and iron spikes
The young male, with tusks measuring over 10cm and weighing an estimated 1,500kg, was found dead, its body in complete rigor mortis at 6 am within the Amchung Wildlife Sanctuary, said the report adding that its body was “emaciated”.
The nature of its wounds and the condition of its internal systems suggest the elephant contracted “slow drawn-out death,” said a forest department official.
The report noted the presence of a “congested lung”, “congestion in the liver”, “swollen lymph gland” and the “color of the spleen is pale”.
The official said, “All of this indicates that the infection had spread and the animal was unable to feed itself or recover from the wound. It died a slow drawn-out death.”
The post-mortem noted there were a “number of puncture wounds” on the elephant’s “right hind and forelegs”.
Army sources, meanwhile, stressed the importance of the depot since it stored food stock necessary for supply across the northeast. Sources said the Army had also dug ditches with ultrasonic buzzers as deterrents.
The depot, which according to conservationists, is within crucial elephant habitat, attracts herds of elephants since it stores food grains. Two department guards, aided by the Army, keep vigil against the elephants, added sources.
Forest department had asked the Army to “stop cruel efforts”
The Army had written to the forest department in September 2018 noting that the military cantonment, a vital installation with important Army units, sub-units, troops, and families, was suffering colossal damage and lives were being endangered.
It had sought relocation of the animals, but the forest department, on December 27 wrote back, saying such elephant menace was “commonplace phenomenon all (the entire) season” and that the “entire military station…is part of the wildlife habitat area. So full stoppage of the elephant transit corridor is practically not feasible”.
Responding to the Army’s demand that “tranquilisers” be used instead of “obsolete” methods that were “having no effect on these wild elephants”, the forest department said, “The responsibility of protecting and preserving the wildlife and its habitat…primarily lies with the forest department. It can’t accomplish this huge task unless help is forthcoming from all the concern.”