The death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala after she was allegedly “fed” a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers sparked massive outrage in the country. The tragic incident started trending on social media after celebrities and politicians condemned the inhuman ordeal. Many demanded that the perpetrators should be given the strictest punishment. Since then, several individuals are mocking the condition of ‘education’ in Kerala, the state with the highest literacy rate in the country. More importantly, as with most other issues in India, the helpless animal’s death has provoked a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment.
BJP MP Maneka Gandhi tweeted, “Mallapuram is know for its intense criminal activity specially with regards to animals. No action has ever been taken against a single poacher or wildlife killer so they keep doing it.” She claimed that the incident took place in Malappuram (misspelt as ‘Mallapuram’ in Gandhi’s tweet), a Muslim-dominated district. Gandhi repeated the same in a byte to ANI.
Mallapuram is know for its intense criminal activity specially with regards to animals. No action has ever been taken against a single poacher or wildlife killer so they keep doing it.
I can only suggest that you call/email and ask for action pic.twitter.com/ii09qmb7xW
— Maneka Sanjay Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) June 3, 2020
In a tweet thread, Pakistani-Canadian author Tarek Fatah shared a report by NDTV and blamed Muslims for the elephant’s death.
The atrocity of feeding a pregnant elephant with pineapple full of firecrackers & killing her, took place in the Mallapuram district of India’s Kerala State. The district is the only Muslim-majority district of the state with an over 70% Muslim population.
What are the chances? pic.twitter.com/JWg7DUWizm
— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) June 2, 2020
Incident from Palakkad, not Malappuram
The report by NDTV shared by Tarek Fatah and several other individuals has now been updated. While it earlier claimed that the elephant died in Malappuram, the article’s updated version reads Palakkad.
The author of the report Shylaja Verma tweeted a clarification that she got the district’s name wrong.
On the Kerala elephant story, we regret getting the name of the district wrong in the first version of the story. It was corrected as soon as it was brought to our notice.
— Shylaja Varma (@ShylajaVarma) June 4, 2020
That the incident occurred in Palakkad was also tweeted by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
In a tragic incident in Palakkad dist, a pregnant elephant has lost its life. Many of you have reached out to us. We want to assure you that your concerns will not go in vain. Justice will prevail.
— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) June 4, 2020
Kerala Forest Minister K Raju said the same.
Strict action will be taken against culprits responsible for killing a pregnant elephant. I want to clarify that it happened in Palakkad not in Malappuram. Regarding, the remark of Maneka Gandhi, I don’t want to comment at this juncture: K Raju, Kerala Forest Minister (file pic) pic.twitter.com/1gnctPzhGO
— ANI (@ANI) June 3, 2020
Misinformation widespread, most share NDTV’s erroneous report
Several individuals either shared a link or a screenshot of the report by NDTV. Below is a tweet by Pratheesh Viswanath, founder of Hindu Sena Kendra. The article claimed that the elephant died in Malappuram.
She was carrying baby inside. She was hungry so as her baby inside. So y accepted food given by humans. But she didnt kno cracker was stuffed inside. She lost trunk and toungue.
She neither turned violent nor attacked. Silently Walked to river. Died there.
From Malappuram Kerala. pic.twitter.com/nl1Omf0hJs
— Pratheesh Viswanath (@pratheesh_Hind) June 2, 2020
Other usual suspects who claimed that the incident took place in Malappuram were Arun Pudur, Payal Rohatgi and @IAmMayank_. Pudur wrote, “Now tell me about 100% literacy & who is majority in Mallapuram?”
In Kerala’s Malappuram, ba$tards fed a Pregnant Elephant Fed Pineapple Stuffed with Firecrackers.
She exploded but didn’t harm anyone. She went to the river and died quietly.
Now tell me about 100% literacy & who is majority in Mallapuram? https://t.co/lduCv2uUbW
— Arun Pudur (@arunpudur) June 2, 2020
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar also claimed that the incident occurred in Malappuram.
Central Government has taken a very serious note of the killing of an elephant in Mallapuram, #Kerala. We will not leave any stone unturned to investigate properly and nab the culprit(s). This is not an Indian culture to feed fire crackers and kill.@moefcc @PIB_India @PIBHindi
— Prakash Javadekar (@PrakashJavdekar) June 4, 2020
Misinformation promoted by the media
Not only NDTV, but several other media outlets claimed that the tragic incident took place in Malappuram. In fact, many continue to misreport – Republic, Hindustan Times, Times Now, India TV, The Economic Times, India Today, ANI, News Nation, among others.
Another error later updated in NDTV’s report
A visible alteration in the report by NDTV, apart from the Malappuram misreport, is the change in the phrase “elephant fed pineapple stuffed with crackers” to “elephant ate pineapple stuffed with crackers”.
The investigation of the elephant’s death is ongoing and the exact details of the incident are yet to be determined. However, the initial probe suggests that the wild animal was not directly fed a pineapple laden with firecrackers but she may have accidentally consumed it.
— The Hindu – Kerala (@THKerala) June 3, 2020
Speaking with Alt News, KK Sunil Kumar, Mannarkkad Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), said, “There is no evidence that pineapple was eaten by the elephant along with the explosives. She may have taken the explosive with any fruit, maybe pineapple. But this is an assumption. No such evidence was found in the postmortem.”
Journalist Dhanya Rajendra tweeted details about the postmortem report which says, “Injuries in oral cavity, most likely due to an explosive blast in the mouth.”
Elephant’s postmortem report:
Immediate cause of death- Drowning.
Injuries in oral cavity, most likely due to an explosive blast in the mouth.
Could not eat or drink for nearly two weeks.
Severe debility and weakness in turn resulted in the final collapse in water.
— Dhanya Rajendran (@dhanyarajendran) June 4, 2020
Kumar further stated that it is a common practice in forest areas for locals to place country bombs to keep away wild animals from agricultural land. “Iron wires are mostly used for the purpose so that when an animal tries to cross, the explosives burst and the animals are kept away. But sometimes people also use these explosives along with food for capturing wild boars or some other smaller animal. Perhaps this elephant ate such a material. We don’t know for sure.”
“According to forest department officials investigating the case, such snares known as ‘panni padakam’ (pig crackers) in Malayalam are commonly used to hunt down wild boars, usually for their meat. In other cases, farmers who wish to ward off wild boar attacks on their land also set up similar traps, although illegal,” reads another report in The News Minute.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden Surendrakumar told The News Minute that the elephant’s injuries showed that she was wounded due to an explosive. “This much we can say for sure now. Who was behind it and what happened, we are investigating,” he told the outlet.
Using explosives to kill, capture or wade off animals is a common practice employed in many states. Last year, a country-made explosive meant for animals went off killing one person in Telangana. A cracker meant to kill wild pigs exploded in Bengaluru in 2014 and injured two persons. In 2017, a cow had accidentally chewed one such explosive in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha. Soon after, false news promoted by ShankhNaad claimed that Muslims fed crackers to the cow. Alt News had debunked the communal misinformation. Our report can be read here.
To summarise, incorrect information put out by NDTV and several other mainstream media outlets led people to believe that the incident took place in Kerala’s Malappuram district when in fact it happened in Palakkad. Since Malappuram is a Muslim-majority district, the case expectedly took an anti-Muslim turn. Furthermore, premature media reports blamed villagers for feeding a pineapple filled with firecrackers to the animal. However, the initial probe by forest officials suggests that she may have fallen prey to a trap that is meant to keep out animals from agricultural areas. The investigation is ongoing and an FIR has been registered against unidentified persons. More details are awaited.