Safety goes for a toss in Wayanad forests

The tribal people usually venture into forests for honey hunting in five or six-member groups.
An officer demonstrates use of safety gear during a training session for tribal people.
An officer demonstrates use of safety gear during a training session for tribal people.(Photo | Express)

KALPETTA: The recent deaths of three persons attempting to collect wild honey from the forests have raised concerns over the safety of those involved in the process. Mini, 35, a member of the Cholanaikkan tribe from the Parappanpara hamlet of Muppainad panchayat in the Meppadi forest range, was trampled by a wild elephant on March 28 when she went to collect wild honey alongside her husband Suresh, three children, and relatives.

An officer demonstrates use of safety gear during a training session for tribal people.
Wild honey production dips, tribal hamlets in Wayanad feel the sting

The tribal people usually venture into forests for honey hunting in five or six-member groups. “Suresh, who was severely injured, was rescued and treated at the Kozhikode medical college hospital. The couple’s eldest son is 16 and the youngest two. We even take our children along as we stay in the woods for a week,” says Kasthuri, sister-in-law of Suresh.

Once they enter the forest, there is means of communication to contact the villagers in times of emergencies. The news of the wild elephant attack came to light when Suresh’s younger brother Rajan, who went to the forest from Kadassery the next day, found the couple bleeding. Later, the forest department and the police arrived to try and rescue them.

Also in March, two boys from the Shastampoovam tribal colony in Thrissur district were found dead. The police investigation later concluded that they died after falling from a tetrameles tree when they climbed up to collect honey. The cops also recovered a towel and a chopping knife from a tree branch. Their bodies were found five days after the incident.

Similarly, in 2021, forest watcher Babu, 36, of Parappanpara, reportedly fell into a gorge inside the Kolimattam forest under the Meppadi range while collecting honey. Considered an expert in harvesting honey from giant combs on huge trees, Babu’s death came as a shock to many.

To ensure the honey harvesters’ safety, the government has launched a special training programme through the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Management Development in association with the Scheduled Tribes development, fire and rescue services and forest departments.

“Last year, we provided one-week special training sessions in safety measures and first aid to 150 tribal persons in Wayanad district. This year, we are focusing on distributing tools like torches, ropes and knives to the honey hunters,” says Dileep P C, Wayanad district coordinator, Centre for Management Development.

The Mananthavady tribal development officer said the Scheduled Tribes development department too is planning to organise such training sessions.

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