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Indian Church head slams govt over rising elephant attacks

Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church speaks out after 14 people lose their lives so far this year in southern Kerala state
Forest officials transport a wild elephant in Kerala on April 29, 2023.

Forest officials transport a wild elephant in Kerala on April 29, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 26, 2024 11:39 AM GMT
Updated: March 27, 2024 04:02 AM GMT

The head of Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church based in India's southern Kerala has criticized the state government following the death of 14 people, including Christians, in wild animal attacks this year.

“Some people give more importance to wild animals than humans," said Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil in his address while leading Palm Sunday services in Mananthavadi diocese, which covers the hilly Wayanad district.

Church leaders have been urging the Communist-led state government to take “serious steps” to protect the lives of people living in the periphery of the forested hills after animal attacks increased. 

Reports say wild animals, particularly elephants start entering human habitats seeking water and food as forest resources dry up in the four-month-long summer starting in February.

Some 22 percent of this northern district's estimated one million people are Christians, mostly members of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church, who migrated from central Kerala some seven decades back.

"Migrant families are not robbers of forest resources. They are people who work hard and produce food and they deserve consideration,” said Thattil.

The following day, the prelate visited the grieving family of 42-year-old Ajeesh Panachiyil who was trampled to death by an elephant outside his house in the district on Feb. 10.

Thattil later told the local media that he was concerned about the safety of people, especially the migrant families who live in the periphery of forests.

Kerala borders on the Western Ghats, a range of mountains along the western coast of India, that has some 10,000 or about 25 percent of wild Asian elephants in the world, according to official records.

“We have stringent laws to protect wildlife but when it comes to human-animal conflict, humans are less protected," Thattil said.

The prelate said that human habitats "are fast becoming unsafe for living” and added he was "skeptical" about the measures being taken by the government to protect them.

Thattil though praised the farmers for their great contribution.

“They are the ones who turn this land into a paradise,” he said. “The issue needs a permanent solution. The government should protect them."

Most animal attacks are reported from the hilly districts of Wayanad, Kannur, Palakkad and Idukki, which borders on Western Ghats.

Government data shows during the reporting year of 2022-23, the state recorded 8,873 cases of wild animal attacks.

Elephant attacks topped the list with 4,193 cases. Other cases were of wild boars (1,524), tigers (193) leopards (244), and bison (32).

These attacks killed 98 people and 27 of them died from elephant attacks.

Father Antony Vadakkekkara, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church said that after every human death, the government assures action but nothing substantial has been done until now.

"It is high time that the government should amend the Wildlife Protection Act to let human beings live peacefully,” the priest said.

The Church leaders are seeking an amendment to wild protection laws that stipulate jail terms for the killing or injuring of wild animals. 

They say the law prohibits people from using weapons against wild animals, which needs to change.

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