Workers in Kerala tried to use an earthmover to drive away an elephant, and now the elephant is dead. The story in the Manorama News says the elephant in Munnar, Kerala, had been causing problems in the area for three months. It had destroyed vehicles, nearly hurt a motorcycle rider and wandered into a factory.
That's when a worker tried to drive the elephant away with an earth mover, or as some would say, a backhoe. A television station posted video of the confrontation.
But now the elephant has been found dead, and authorities have seized the earthmover as part of the investigation.
Here is what Rajeev N. Kurup wrote about it on Facebook:
"Post-mortem report says the animal died of internal bleeding. It adds that the elephants internal organs sustained injuries after being hit by the earthmover. The driver and the vehicle have been taken into custody. This happened Munnar,Kerala., Tata estate.
"The wild Tusker died due to injuries when it was hit by the JCB escavator blade on its forehead.
"The latest victim of this is our Great Tusker "Chilli Komban," known for being calm and harmless ,according to locals and watchers. It was seen as one of the hero tuskers of Munnar.
He had been near the Chenduvurai factory under KDHP , since last 3 days and was being chased from all over, though it had stood harmless. Once it entered the factory premises , JCB was used to shoo it off , which was not needed at all. They could have used other means that wouldn't have killed him. This had clearly hit the tusker , leading to its sudden fall in physical condition. It was then reported dead in the same area."
Note that Kurup says the incident happened on a Tata estate. We found Tata to be one of the best agriculturalists when it came to co-existing with elephants. But some are pointing their finger at the company with regard to this death.
This is more evidence that human-elephant conflict continues to grow in India.
Much of our work in "Elephants in the Coffee" revolves about the Indian government's effort to take wild rogue elephants and domesticate them. We see members of the Jenu Kuruba tribe capture elephants, place them in kraals for three months to force the elephant into submission, and then live in close contact with the elephant for years afterward. This form of domestication of wild elephants has a history dating back as much as 6,000 years.
However, we hear again and again of elephants killing their mahouts, or trainers. Today there is another story, this out of Africa, of an elephant turning on his trainer. The elephant has been trained to give rides to tourists at Victoria Falls. Suddenly, it turned on its trainer and killed him.
In that story, the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cautions that elephants can never be domesticated. And if you watch "Elephants in the Coffee" carefully, one mahout says that some elephants can never be made to submit to a human.
And yet India relies on mahouts to domesticate and train elephants -- and to do that with the most difficult animals, elephants who have already been identified as killing people. When we hear of elephants turning on a trainers or mahouts and harming them, perhaps we should not be surprised.
An article in The New Indian Express points out how widespread the conflict between agriculture and elephants has become in southern India. The map shows the Nilgiri biosphere, home to about 6,000 wild elephants. The area that we have focused on in "Elephants in the Coffee" is near the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, which is better known as Nagarhole National Park. You can see that in the upper left of the map.
But the conflict discussed in the article is in far south of the Nilgiri biosphere, and about 350 kilometers (about 220 miles) from the area reported on in our documentary. Yet according to the article, wild elephants near Marayoor in Kerala, India, are creating a deadly problem for residents.
The article says 33 people have been killed by elephants there, including a visually challenged girl who was recently gored by a tusker. The article also says wild elephants have been destroying farmland.
In this case, the wild elephant causing problems has been driven back into a natural park. However, the case points out the difficulty of trying to separate humans from elephants with fences, as some have proposed. The map shows the huge range of elephants in southern India. Putting up an elephant fence at the cost of $200,000 per kilometer, as park officials are now trying to do at Nagarhole, could cost billions.
Another elephant has been electrocuted in the Coorg district of southern India, or as many know it, Kogadu. As this story tells, the carcass was discovered by workers for the electric company. The discovery of the dead elephant was the beginning of more finger-pointing.
A tree had fallen on the wires, and the broken wires subsequently killed a 12-year-old female elephants. Fallen trees are good conductors of electricity, so a browsing elephant can be killed by touching it.
The District Forest Officer chose to place the blame on coffee farmers, saying they had failed to clear dry and fallen trees from their estate.
However, others blame the Forest Department for failing to drive wild elephants back into the national forest.
As "Elephants in the Coffee" points out, co-existence between agriculture and elephants is extremely difficulty, and the finger-pointing makes it even more difficult.
In July, seven elephants were killed in Coorg due to electrocution.
We have discussed the notion of elephant-friendly tea with the people at the University of Montana who pioneered the idea. Now, as you can read here, their elephant-friendly tea is on sale in America.
As the reporter here writes, "The farm-to-cup program means that tea growers who practice elephant-friendly techniques, such as not installing deep and narrow irrigation ditches that kill baby elephants, can get certification. And conservation-minded consumers in places like Missoula can find the Certified Elephant Friendly Tea at local companies like the Lake Missoula Tea Company, Café Dolce and the Good Food Store."
We think the idea merits consideration for coffee farmers, too. As we report in "Elephants in the Coffee," some elephants now live within the coffee plantations. They have food and water there, and shade from the sun.
The elephant-friendly certification is one way that farmers and others can say, "We will work to live with elephants, so that we all can have good lives."
Look for elephant-friendly tea. One day, perhaps, you fill find elephant-friendly coffee, too.
Odisha is another area where elephant conflicts have taken a huge toll. According to the Hindu, "Odisha has recorded one of the worst man-elephant conflicts in the country. Since 2013-14, 311 elephants have been killed with annual average elephant deaths estimated at over 70. During the same period, 275 humans lost their lives in elephant depredation."
But despite the conflicts, the wild elephant population is holding steady, and perhaps growing a little. In a population study conducted in Odisha and three other states in May, the government found that the number of elephants had grown by 22 elephants in the past two years, up from 1,954 to 1,976.
That is less than one percent grown per year, but it is hopeful. Elephant populations in India have been in severe decline for most of the past century,
In the wake of the deaths of four elephants to electrocution when they struck a power line near Thithimathi in Karnataka, the government is proposing more solar electric fencing to control elephant movements around the national park.
Solar electric fencing is already used around many coffee plantations, and we saw that such fencing was also being used in park very close to the city of Bangalore. The solar fences have low enough voltage that they won't kill elephants, yet high enough that it will stop elephants from trying to break through it.
However, the use of solar electric fences has generally been found to less effective than expected. The common reaction of elephants is to keep walking until they get around the obstruction. That means the use of such fencing around a contained coffee estate is generally more effective than when used to prevent elephant movement in a general sense, as the government is contemplating. Such fences act more like a seawall; they merely concentrate the efforts of elephants movements toward less protected areas. Containing the entire park would be extremely expensive.
The other problem is maintaining fences. Solar fences and their batteries require constant maintenance, and elephants can break through fences when the power is down. Then once they get out, they are restrained from getting back inside the park.
Biologist Karthic Krishnan, who works with a large coffee estate to reduce elephant conflicts, says electric fences worked at first, but elephants have found ways to getting past them. He says he and his workers have seen elephants throw rocks or knock down trees to break a fence and cross it.
Sadly, electric fences seem like an ineffective solution to the greater problem of co-existence with elephants.
Activist Rajeev N Kurup in Kerala has launched a petition asking the Forest Department there to quit its practice of capturing troublesome elephants, caging them and forcing the endangered animals into a life of submission.
What is happening in Kerala, according to Kurup, is very much like what we documented in Karnataka in "Elephants in the Coffee." What is surprising, perhaps, is how few elephants are being captured like this in Kerala.
Kurup writes, "In the last eight months, the Kerala Forest Department, caught not one, but three giant tuskers in various locations in the state, and is busy "training" them in order to convert these wild creatures to obedient slave elephants."
What we saw in Karnataka was capture on a much larger scale. The state got permission to capture 25 elephants in 2012, and sought capture of another 25 elephants in 2014. We saw 16 cages in Karnataka, usually four at each location.
What Kurup says about the future for elephants rings true: "The forest department along with people's representatives and local governing bodies, are developing strategies and hatching plans to capture many many more wild elephants and bring them into captivity."
Kurup is a tireless activist with a significant following. In a day, he gathered 2,000 signatures. The question, however, is what alternatives the Forest Department might seek when an elephant kills someone. The most direct answer is to capture and cage the animal.
More complex responses, such as working with farmers to promote co-existence, are much more difficult. And the solution preferred by some conservationists, to remove people from the lands where elephants roam, seems unlikely.
The Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York and Los Angeles has selected "Elephants in the Coffee" for screening, as has the Matsalu Nature Film Festival in Estonia.
The WCFF is led by Christopher J. Gervais, an environmental and marine scientist. It screens about 80 films during the week-long event in New York City.
The Matsulu Nature Film Festival has been running for 15 years. Nearly 1000 films enter the competition each year. We are very pleased to be selected by these prestigious festivals.