Crop raiding wild boars are an increasing threat to livelihood of small scale farmers in Kerala. But scientific decimation of the animals involves a complex and prolonged official process.In the absence of easy permissible measures to ward off the wild boar threat, farmers look for alternatives which are often illegal.Such a situation is responsible for the recent tragic death of a pregnant wild elephant in Palakkad district which was widely played up in news media and politicians.While conservationists and green activists agree with the farmers about the threat of wild boars, they demand scientific and practical long term solutions. The recent incident of a female wild elephant in Kerala falling prey to crude bait meant for wild boar sheds light on the widespread issue of human-wildlife conflict in the state. Scientifically decimating crop-raiding nuisance animals, or vermin, involves a complex and prolonged official process in Kerala. Small scale farmers across the state are finding wild boars as a major threat to their crops and livelihood. In the absence of easy permissible measures to ward off the threat, farmers look for alternatives that are often illegal. In a situation like this, other animals, especially elephants, become unintended targets of crude practices to drive away crop-raiding wild boars. This was the case with the recent deaths of two wild elephants in Palakkad and Kollam districts of Kerala. Though the Palakkad incident created large scale media and political sensation globally, news of the Kollam incident was relatively lesser widespread. “In both the incidents, female elephants that had eaten food materials stuffed with local crude bombs were brutally killed,’’ observes noted environmental activist and advocate, Harish Vasudevan. The two elephants, one among them pregnant, were the unintended targets in the fight between local small scale farmers in Kerala and the state’s numerically strong wild boar population. As per statistics available with Kerala’s Forest Department, the wild boar population in the state has increased from 40,963 in 1993 to 60,940 in 2002. However, it dipped to 48,034 in 2011 largely because of habitat destruction, human interference, deforestation and climate change. As per a survey conducted by the department in 2019, the state now has around 58,000 wild boars. Forest department officials retrieve the dead wild elephant with the help of trained elephants at Thiruvizhamkunnu, after four days of rescue attempts. Photo by P S Manoj. A snapshot of the official process to control wild boars When a wild boar was gunned down by forest officials on May 14, at Aruvappullam, a village that shares a border with Ranni forest range in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, it marked the first implementation of a government order from 2014 (recently amended) which permits strict and scientific decimation of crop-raiding wild boars. Strictly adhering to the order, the crop-raiding wild boar was shot dead by a trained shooter under the close watch of a range forest officer, half a dozen forest watchers, ten wildlife protection officials and three animal husbandry officials. Also, as mandated by the order, the local village panchayat president was present along with all the board members and a special police team was also present to keep the local residents at a safe distance. Before gunning it down, the toughest challenge for the officials on duty was to ascertain whether the boar was a breastfeeding one or not. As no piglets were around, the team finally reached the conclusion that it was not a breastfeeding one. They also had to ensure that it was not returning to its forest-dwelling after moving around in the village. After gunning down the boar, its carcass was burnt using kerosene and the remains buried in a five-foot deep pit. Submission of a detailed report in a prescribed format within 24 hours to the chief wildlife warden of the state marked the completion of the process. “The government has amended the 2014 order (the amendment was issued in March, came in effect in May 2020) in the recent days claiming expunging of all impractical clauses. Though it removed the clause of hiring a trained shooter, subsequent processes continue to be the same. Panchayat level vigilance committees can permit farmers with licensed guns to kill wild boars. But these two orders are abject failures in tackling the wild boar menace,” said P. T. John, a farmers’ leader based in Wayanad. According to him, “Farmers who live in the forest fringes are finding wild boars as their arch-rivals. Elephants are turning wrong targets in the clashes involving forest fringe farmers and wild boars,’’ he said. A wild boar near an agriculture field in Palakkad district, Kerala. These crop-raiding animals pose an increasing threat to the livelihood of small scale farmers in Kerala. Photo by Ajan R Nair. Politicised elephant death has twists in the case Meanwhile, the elephant death in Palakkad won global attention due to the angry responses from Bharatiya Janta Party’s Maneka Gandhi, industrialist Ratan Tata and a number of Indian film actors. As of the latest investigations into the case, there are some discrepancies compared to the original claims in media reports. The veterinary surgeon who conducted the autopsy confirming that the elephant had not consumed pineapple stuffed with a crude bomb as was widely portrayed. Talking to Mongabay-India, surgeon David Abraham said the pregnant wild elephant drowned following lung failure caused by inhalation of water. “There were major wounds in its oral cavity and which might have occurred due to an explosive blast. As a result, she could not eat for about two weeks, leading to her collapse in the river and subsequent drowning. The incapacitating wounds and injuries in the oral cavity had caused localised sepsis and resulted in excruciating pain. Severe debility and weakness have resulted in the final collapse and drowning,’’ he said. According to U. Ashiq Ali, the investigating officer of the concerned forest department, evidence gathered so far has indicated that the crude bomb was stuffed in coconut to target wild boars. An estate owner, his son and a plantation worker under them have been accused so far in connection with the killing and the worker confessed that the target was not the elephant but crop-raiding wild boars. Though conservationists and green activists agree with the farmers that wild boars are posing a major threat to farming activities in the state, especially human settlements in the Western Ghats, they prefer to differ with the political parties and farmers’ organisations which campaign for mass slaughtering of wild boars, terming them as vermin. They demand scientific and practical long term solutions which must prevent possible misuse of the related government orders by mafias engaged in hunting and sale of wild meat. “It was after a social media post by a forest officer, describing the elephant’s ordeal, went viral on the internet, that the massive online outrage started evolving. Thousands have demanded action against the perpetrators. Contrary to what appeared in social media, the elephant was found dead at a human habitation near Kellalloor vested forest under Thiruvizhamkunnu forest division of Mannarkkad division of forests. The incident had not occurred within the adjacent Silent Valley national park as reported by a larger section of the media. Some others wrongly claimed the elephant died in the border district Malappuram. All these claims are false,’’ said Silent Valley Wildlife Warden Samuel Vanlalngheta Pachuau when contacted by Mongabay-India. According to forest officials, more than two dozen cases of farmers placing crackers inside fruits and coconuts to kill wild boars have been reported from Nilambaur and Mannarkkad forest divisions (the buffer zone of Silent Valley national park) in the last two years. According to K.K. Sunil Kumar, Mannarkkad Divisional Forest Officer, the elephant had fallen prey to the attempt of the estate owner to kill wild boars using illegal means. The elephant was not killed intentionally, he said. “Another elephant was killed in a similar line in another part of the state during the same time. But Maneka Gandhi and all other animal lovers have concentrated only on the Palakkad elephant. Even the world’s largest animal protection organisation Humane Society International had offered a reward of Rs. 50,000 for helping to trace culprits in Palakkad. The need is safe protection of all wild animals along with their natural habitats. Regional discrimination must not be permitted,’’ said environmental activist Purushan Eloor. As per forest department documents accessed by Mongabay-India, officials had spotted the injured elephant at Thiruvizhankunnu on May 22. The injuries spotted by that day on the 20-year-old wild elephant were serious in nature. When the forest veterinarians and protective staff had attempted its treatment, the animal “charged and chased them for 60 metres”. As the location where the elephant was found was in a highly habituated area, the officials took care to avoid any untoward incident involving humans. In the meantime, the elephant had waded into the nearby Velliyar stream, a feeder of river Kunthi, and remained there till the end. Despite the efforts of officials to rescue the elephant, it died on May 27. Even attempts to take it back from the stream for treatment using kumki elephants (trained elephants used to trap wild elephants) had failed. However, the death became a matter of sensation a few days after when the forest officer put up a Facebook post. “We are now espousing a novel campaign. Such crimes targeting wildlife must not be repeated. In the meantime, there must be effective legal mechanisms to protect the farm produce from wildlife attacks, especially wild boar. The existing government order permitting the killing of wild boars under stringent clauses is not sufficient or effective to end this menace,’’ said Palakkad-based environmental activist S. Guruvayurappan. Kerala’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden Surendrakumar told Mongabay-India that the department has learnt many lessons from the Palakkad incident and has begun steps to avoid recurring of such unfortunate instances. Efforts are on to facilitate the involvement of local farmers in conservation activities, he said.