In the parallel world of social media, not all are equal in death. The heartbreaking story of a pregnant elephant dying in Kerala after eating a fruit-bomb stirred our collective conscience so much more than the equally heart-wrenching saga of hundreds of migrants dying on their way home. Nevertheless, the elephant story needs our collective attention.
Data shows that between 2014 and 2019, a total of 510 elephants died of unnatural causes. Of them, 333 elephants were electrocuted, 77 died in train accidents, and 71 were killed by poachers. Kerala stands sixth in the country in unnatural elephant deaths (8.2%). Assam and Odisha together are responsible for 40% of such deaths. This, despite both Assam and Kerala reporting almost equal wild elephant populations. Yet, the death of this one elephant in Kerala sparked so much more outrage than the 500 before it.
A major reason is misinformation. For years, farmers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have used fruit bombs to kill wild boars that destroy their crops. It never made news till this elephant fell prey. However, when national TV reported the incident, the contraption became a prank. The miscreants were alleged to have deliberately fed the bomb to the elephant. Truth became the victim to emotional outbursts. Actors, sports stars, and even business honchos suddenly became animal rights activists, of course on social media.
Will these business houses now stop exploiting loopholes in environmental regulations? Will these actors turn down projects with high environmental costs? Probably not. Recently, around 300 wildlife activists wrote to the Centre, asking it to reconsider permissions given for 31 commercial proposals that will affect a whopping 15 tiger reserves in the country—that is, 30% of all tiger habitats. Why no business leaders or actors have opposed such projects remains a mystery.
In the era of ‘fast-track’ environmental clearances, much more than lip service is needed to protect wildlife. There needs to be coordinated effort, involving governments, businesses, and individuals. Until then, animal rights activism will remain an easy cause to advocate, for no animal will accuse us of tokenism.