Death of Pregnant Elephant in Kerala: Perspective through Wildlife Protection Laws

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Being human is a given. But keeping our humanity is a choice.” – Anonymous

On May 27, 2020, a story surfaced online. It could have been another a piece of news, but it was proof that humanity has now become a lost cause. A pregnant elephant died after eating a pineapple filled with crackers. Official reports suggested that the elephant was not “fed” with the pineapple. Such practices of filling fruits with crackers have been common to scare away wild boars. But, it is still an inhumane thing to do.

Background

The elephant consumed the pineapple and it burst in her mouth. During her postmortem, they found that she was pregnant. This sparked a nationwide debate on animal cruelty laws. People signed around 927 petitions worldwide to get justice for the elephant. The death of an elephant is not something that occurred for the first time. This incident brought to light a scary inhumane side of humans.

Many people worldwide believe in Lord Ganesha. He is a half elephant and half-human god. They believe that every good occasion should begin by chanting his name. It’s ironical that on one hand, we pray to an idol, but on the other hand, become uncompassionate with its origin. The news of the killing of the elephant spread like wildfire. The politicians have used the story for their benefit. There was pressure on the authorities to take quick action against the culprits.

They filed First Information Reports against anonymous accused. On June 5, 2020, the arrest of the first culprit took place. There was lots of social media influence and pressure from all political actors. This led to the Center taking cognizance of the issue. Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar assured stern action against the culprits. But, this is not the first time that such an incident has taken place. This is why citizens feel the need for stringent laws against animal cruelty.

Exploring the Legal Aspects in Kerala

In February 2016, Kerala Government passed an order. It allowed the Chief Wildlife Warden of the State to pass on the ownership of illegal captive elephants to people with a certificate. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) opposed this move. This was a clean chit to the increase of such illegal trading activities.

As per a report in 2019, 133 elephants die in Kerala every year. The Mahesh Rangarajan Commission asked for the establishment of National Elephant Protection Authority. This was to ensure the safety of wild elephants in forests. But, the Kerala Government took no further measures in this aspect.

In June 2019, Kerala Government amended its law about protection of elephants. They did this when the number of elephant deaths reached 34 in 2018. Also, the State took active measures by training mahouts to take better care of elephants. Moreover, they took measures by opening rehabilitation centres for elephants. Furthermore, they allotted ₹108 Crores for the same.

Suparna Ganguly is the President of the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. She said that over 70 captive elephants have died at a young age and of unnatural causes. This was only between 2015-2017 in Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

The death of Soumya, the elephant, became viral on social media. Various animal welfare NGOs came forward. They asked for better laws and treatments for these creatures. PETA India issues a statement bringing out reality. It stated that people kill animals in Kerala to protect crops. This is not the way to maintain ecological balance. The only demand these animal bodies have is the punishment of the culprits. The laws should be stringent and effective.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 aims to protect the wildlife of the country. Not only animals but also flora, birds and plant species to ensure an ecological balance. Moreover, Article 48-A of the Indian Constitution also lays emphasis on the role of State to protect its flora and fauna. This is in the form of the Directive Principle of State Policy.

There was a need for this Act because India is not only a land of diverse culture but also diverse species. Such species are vulnerable to predators and can become extinct. The Act provides for the formation of Wildlife Advisory Boards and Chief Wardens. This is for better monitoring and implementation of policies for wildlife protection.

Asian Elephants are listed in Appendix 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species. India is a signatory to this. It guarantees them the utmost protection. But, while enacting the Wildlife Protection Act, there was an exception. This was for elephants in captivity. Many environmentalists state that the exception was not meant to be ongoing.

The animal guaranteed utmost protection by law can remain under private ownership. However, this is truly ironic. This is sheer misuse of the law.

Punishment under the Act

The culprits can face a maximum of 7 years of imprisonment or a fine of ₹25,000 or both. An issue that does not lead to deterrence is the low conviction rates under this Act. For instance, Kerala reported 630 wildlife Offences but only 20 convictions since 2000. Assam Sessions Court set a strong example. It convicted the culprits under Section 51(A) of the Act. It sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment for killing mongooses and other birds.

Author’s Recommendations

Above all, the author provides the following recommendations in this regard:

  • Article 51 A(g) of the Constitution also lays down the duties of citizens towards its wildlife.
  • As humans first, we must be empathetic in our approach towards other beings of our ecosystem.
  • As citizens, we must strive to protect India’s diversity in every form.
  • The laws need to be more stringent so that they lead to deterrence in the future. Subsequently, with laws being stringent, we also need proper implementation of these laws.
  • Do not overlook the role of NGOs and Animal Welfare committees.
  • They can work with the State as well as Central Government to help frame better policies. Policies can be tailor-made and implemented in a better way with helping each other.
  • Citizens should play an active part. One must not allow any kind of animal abuse and report such culprits to the authorities.

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