When vengeance and tourism lobby killed an innocent elephant in Wayanad
SULTHAN BATHERY (WAYANAD): On the intervening night of May 29 and 30, a team of guards from the Kurichiyad forest range in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was on a routine patrol. They saw a female elephant close to the road at Nalam mile on the Sulthan Bathery-Perikkallur state highway and thought nothing of it. On the morning of May 30, a forest office situated less than one km from Nalam mile received a phone call reporting the carcass of an elephant.
At the scene, the body of a 13-year-old cow was found in a kneeling position just 5 m from the road. She had a bullet wound on the left of its head. Forest officials were certain it was the same cow the patrolling team had sighted a few hours earlier. She not a crop raider or a rogue. The probe pointed a finger at the burgeoning tourism industry in the district. “It was an operation by a criminal gang hired by the tourism lobby.
They did it in retaliation for the action taken by the authorities against an illegal resort in the region. Shooting an elephant so close to the office of the warden of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was a warning to those opposed to the tourism lobby,” said a Kerala forest department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He added, “The culprits involved have connections.”
In the last 20 years or so, tourism has become a new player in the human-elephant conflict (HEC).
With governments’ development strategy, wildlife is only an extension of the friendly neighbourhood zoo where tourists go to make faces at monkeys, and leaving Lays wrappers in their wake. With millions of rupees riding on the tourist bandwagon, a whole infrastructure is beginning to take root in elephant country all across south India. The forests of Wayanad are host to a number of resorts and home stays. There are at least 120 resorts in and around the Sulthan Bathery division alone. The tourism lobby acquires land for their projects in collusion with tribal people who lease the land from the government.
“All they need is to bribe tribal people with a full bottle of liquor and a currency note of Rs 1,000. While the land stays in the possession of tribals, the facility is controlled and operated by outsiders. The law is too lenient towards tribal people,” said an official.
The explosion of tourism facilities is posing a major threat to elephant habitats. Large tourism infrastructure tends to sever habitat connectivity and create serious disruption of elephant migration.