COIMBATORE: A 30-year-old male elephant was electrocuted to death in Sirumugai forest range on Wednesday. The animal is said to have come in contact with an electric fence, which was erected illegally, at a private farmland in Puthukadu near Pethikkuttai.
An inquiry by forest officials revealed that a banana plantation owner named Murugesan set the fence up illegally to prevent wild boars from attacking his crops. He electrified the fence by drawing a power supply from his motor pump room.
According to TANGEDCO sources, Murugesan was given a three-phase connection (440 volts) for domestic use and a separate line for agriculture use. An inquiry is underway to find whether Murugesan drew power for the fence from the domestic or the agriculture line.
Forest officials faced local opposition while securing Murugesan. "When range officer Senthil Kumar was taking Murugesan to the Sirumugai forest range office for an inquiry, his bike was intercepted by villagers. A few youngsters prevented Senthil from discharging his duty and rescued Murugesan,” District Forest Officer of Coimbatore Forest Division D Venkatesh said.
“We alerted the Sirumugai police and sought their protection for our staff. Later, the village headman brought Murugesan to the range office after which the latter was arrested under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972," Venkatesh said.
First electrocution in 2020
Taking stock of the situation, Venkatesh said that 21 elephant deaths were reported from seven forest ranges of the Coimbatore Forest Division in 2020. Of these 11 elephants died of natural causes, four due to infighting, each one due to gunshot, accident, pregnancy, age and electrocution. An elephant calf was also stillborn at Sembukkarai forest near Anaikatti.
This is the first time a jumbo has been electrocuted to death in Sirumugai range this year. In April 2019, a 10-year-old tusker was electrocuted after it came in contact with a live wire in a banana plantation near Bhavanisagar Dam.
Negligence of officials?
Meanwhile, wildlife activists blame forest officials for the elephant's death.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, city-based wildlife activist K Mohanraj said that the animal's death has brought to light the negligence of both the forest and TANGEDCO officials. "The death could have been averted if the officials had inspected the area to check for illegal electric fences," he opined. "The Madras High Court has already ordered the removal of illegal fences near the Bhavanisagar Dam. It is the forest department's duty to watch out for violators and curb such deaths in the future," Mohanraj said.