India outrage after pregnant elephant dies eating 'firecracker fruit'

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The elephantImage source, MOHAN krishnan
Image caption,
The elephant stood in the river for four days

Wildlife officials in India are investigating the death of a pregnant elephant after it ate a pineapple containing firecrackers.

The incident in Kerala caused outrage after a forest official posted about the death on social media.

It's unclear if it was an accident, who planted the explosives or why. The animal spent days in pain before dying.

Vets tried but failed to save her. India has some 27,000 wild elephants and another 2,500 in captivity.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government had taken a "serious note of the killing". Kerala's chief minister says the investigation is focused on "three suspects", reports BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi.

"Two suspects are being interrogated right now. We have not yet made any formal arrests," an official told the BBC.

Earlier the state forestry department had said there was no "conclusive evidence" to link the death to firecrackers, but most experts think the elephant ate what is called a "pig cracker", intended to scare wild boars away from crops.

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The incident has sparked outrage on social media. Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons and one of India's leading businessmen, said "justice needs to prevail".

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Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli described the killing as a "cowardly act".

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The 15-year-old elephant, who was two months pregnant, apparently strayed into a village near the Silent Valley National Park in Palakkad district last week and ate the pineapple.

In a Facebook post, forest official Mohan Krishnan said the firecrackers exploded in the animal's mouth and the elephant walked for days in pain before dying on 27 May, standing in a river.

He wrote that the animal "didn't harm a single human being even when she ran in searing pain in the streets of the village".

"When I saw her, she was standing in the river without making any noise. She was possibly getting some relief from immersing her trunk and mouth into the water," Mr Krishnan told the BBC.

A senior local forest official said the elephant stood in water for four days even as wildlife workers and vets tried to save her.

"We tried our best to save the lives of both the mother and the child, but we failed," KK Sunil Kumar told the BBC.

However, it is not clear whether the elephant was fed the firecracker-spiked fruit or accidentally ate it.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The elephant died in a river in Kerala

Farmers often scatter such fruits in the area to keep animals - mainly wild boar and pigs - away from damaging their crops, officials say.

Reports say that elephants are at risk when they stray into human settlements to look for food.

"People are getting into conflicts and they resort to different mitigation methods - they put up electric fences, build trenches or become more brutal and use a crude bomb [to keep the animals away]," OP Nammeer, a professor of wildlife at Kerala Agriculture University, told the Mint newspaper.