It was a poignant sight that tugged at the heartstrings. The pregnant wild elephant stood in the Velliyar river, her shattered jaw and injured trunk submerged in water to alleviate the excruciating pain and to keep insects away.
Days ago, she had found a pineapple, and happily chomped on it, knowing little that it was stuffed with an explosive. The explosive went off, injuring her.
For days, she roamed around. Despite being in pain, the gentle giant did not hurt a single soul. She then tried to find solace in the Velliyar river, where death relieved her of the agonising pain and hunger on 27 May, 2020.
The pineapple was meant for marauding wild boars that destroy crops in villages abutting the forests.
The incident sent shock waves across the country. BJP’s Maneka Gandhi, industrialist Ratan Tata, and several film personalities vented their anger and sorrow. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took to Twitter (now X) acknowledging that many people had contacted the government on behalf of the elephant.
“We want to assure you that your concerns will not go in vain. Justice will prevail,” he tweeted.
Another elephant in Kollam, too, met the same fate the same month.
Despite the outcry and attempts to politicise the incident, deaths continued. Humans, too, often fell prey to illegal traps, including electrified fences, put up to keep the wild at bay.
The latest in the tragic series was reported from Palakkad, Kerala’s rice bowl, on Wednesday, 27 September. The police exhumed the bodies — stacked one over the other — of two men from a shallow pit in a paddy field at Karingarapully near Kodumbu.
The owner of the field, Ananthan Ambalapparamba, later confessed to the police that the men had accidentally come into contact with a live electric fence that he had set up illegally to trap crop-raiding wild boars.
The deceased, Sathish Kalandithara and Shijith Karokkottupura, were on the run after a clash with some others at Kottekkad on Sunday.
Wild hogs have been increasingly posing a threat to crops, forcing farmers to look for easy and illegal methods to protect their farmlands, often with tragic consequences.
In May 2022, two policemen attached to the Kerala Armed Police-II camp, too, were killed after being electrocuted. The farm owner was slapped with the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Threats to farmers
Small-scale farmers across the state are finding wild boars a major threat to their crops and livelihood, forcing them set up illegal electric traps or powerful crackers-laced fruit to trap the animals.
In general, conservationists and green activists in the state agree with the farmers on the threats posed by wild boars. They demand long-term scientific and practical solutions.
Illegal practices are being followed in the absence of such solution, and they often target humans and other animals.
In July this year, 10 people were arrested from the Machad forest range in Thrissur for killing and burning an elephant inside a rubber estate.
They confessed to forest and police officials that they buried the elephant after it was electrocuted by a trap meant for wild boars. The estate owner had set the trap alone, but he managed, with the help of nine others, to bury the animal secretly.
The issue came to the attention of forest officials after one of them tried to sell the tusks outside the village. With the wild boar menace becoming rampant, farmers have started looking for means to eliminate them.
In June this year, half a dozen wild boars were found trapped in a well at Eranholi near Kannur.
Forest officials reached the spot and started a rescue operation. But the local farmers pressured the forest officials to immediately end the rescue mission and gun down all the trapped animals. The officials obliged.
Permission to kill legally difficult to obtain
In Kerala, legally killing crop-raiding animals involves a complex and prolonged official process.
According to the Wildlife Protection Act, killing wild boars is illegal. However, the Kerala government has given some relaxation to the farmers in the state. The farmers accuse the government of making the decimation process complex. They want the menace to be tackled effectively.
As per the relaxations given to the farmers facing threats from wild boars, panchayat presidents can work as honorary wildlife wardens and execute the killing of crop-raiding hogs with the help of respective panchayat secretaries.
Wild boars can be shot down in the presence of independent observers, and the carcasses must be burned in public before burying the ashes in a deep trench dug on forest land.
However, poisoning and electrocuting wild boars are punishable offences.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has rejected Kerala’s demand to declare wild boars as vermin under Section 62 of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.
The Forest Department has confirmed that 21 farmers were killed and 103 others injured in wild boar attacks between January 2021 and March 2022.
According to Kerala’s Forest Department statistics, the population of wild boars in the state has increased from 40,963 in 1993 to 60,940 in 2002. However, the number decreased to 48,034 in 2011, mainly because of habitat destruction, human interference, deforestation, and climate change.
However, a survey conducted by the department in 2019 indicates that the state now has around 58,000 wild boars.
According to farmers’ leader PT John, wild boar threaten Kerala’s agricultural economy by destroying plantain, tapioca, other tuber crops, as well as paddy. Climate change, expanding cities, depleting forest cover, and lack of enough fodder within forests, push wild boars into human habitations.
However, they replaced wild elephants in the human-animal conflicts witnessed by the state in the past five years.
Those who travel by auto and car in the hill ranges, too, are falling victims to wild boar. In the meantime, the Union ministry stated that declaring wild boars as vermin would cause their indiscriminate killing for meat apart from upsetting the food security-related balance of the forest habitat.
According to Coimbatore-based forest expert CR Bijoy, there are 18 species of pigs globally, and 10 are endangered.
“None of the endangered species are present in Kerala. There are 17 sub-species among wild boars, and only three are found in India. The species that is abundant now in Kerala is known for destroying coconuts, plantain, and tuber crops. There would be no environmental impact if they are killed whenever they move out of forests,” he said.
According to official studies, wild boars are responsible for 60 percent of the crop loss in Kerala.
The Kerala government has disbursed around ₹5 crore as compensation to 971 applicants who lost their crops to boars between 2020 and 2021. It was ₹3.53 crore in 2019-20 and ₹4.6 crore in 2018-19.
Kerala has 406 ‘hot spots’
As per the Union government’s direction to submit a list of “hot spot” villages facing severe wild boar attacks, the state provided a list of 406 villages. Bijoy said wild boars are a significant threat to many other endangered species, and their scientific management should be considered a form of wildlife protection.
Another argument supporting the culling of boars is that they were once the main source of protein for many tribal communities and groups.
Biodiversity researcher PO Nameer, the dean of the College of Climate Change and Environmental Science at Kerala Agricultural University, also holds a similar view.
“Before the National Wildlife Protection Act was enacted, tribespeople considered these animals a major portion of their nutritional demand. Most of their protein requirements were met by the consumption of the meat of wild boars,” he said.
Nameer recommended discussions on permitting the consumption of wild boar meat so that indigenous communities can hunt these animals and bridge the gap in their food needs.
Farmers who demand the culling of wild boars claim their numbers have increased considerably in recent years. But Nameer said there were no independent studies to confirm it.
“Wild boars are the second most troublesome species on the earth. But we need to check whether culling is a solution,” he said.
“It is a fact that wild boars are engaging in large-scale crop raids. But they alone must not be blamed. Tigers, elephants, peafowl, squirrels, monkeys, and many more animals are causing trouble to farmers. So, in the future, people will demand culling rights against all of them. So the government must be cautious,” N Badusha, president of Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithy, opined.
He believes that giving vermin status to wild boars will increase wildlife crimes.
Many people would engage in indiscriminate hunting of other animals under the cover of killing the vermin. He also warns that wild boars are a crucial part of the food chain in the forests, and several predators depend on them.