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Indian Church leader urges govt to save people from elephant attacks

So far this year, five persons have died as man-animal conflict is on the rise in Kerala state
Southern Kerala, located in the Western Ghat, is home to one of the largest Asian elephant populations in the world.

Southern Kerala, located in the Western Ghat, is home to one of the largest Asian elephant populations in the world.  (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 12, 2024 12:53 PM GMT

Governments need to prioritize human lives over wildlife, said the head of India’s Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church after an elephant trampled to death a man in the latest of a series of wildlife attacks in southern Indian Kerala.

Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil, who heads his Kerala-based Church, urged the Communist-led state government to take “serious steps” to protect the farmers living in the periphery of the Western Ghats, the state’s mountain range.

“The approach of giving more importance to the life of animals over humans is not good for a cultured society,” Thattil said in his Feb. 10 statement.

The prelate’s statement came hours after 42-year-old Ajeesh Panachiyil was trampled to death in front of his house after the animal chased him and a group of people through a public road in Wayanad district.

This year five people were killed by wild elephants in Kerala. Two died in Wayanad and three were killed in Idukki. The two districts have a sizable Christian presence.

The animal that killed Panachiyil was a radio-collared elephant that was translocated from the neighboring state of Karnataka, also in southern India

Video recordings of from nearby homes show the elephant chasing people, and Panchiyil scaling the compound wall of his house as he frantically searched for safety. But the elephant smashed the boundary wall and got him.

“It is not acceptable that humans are losing their lives in wildlife attacks,” said the 67-year-old leader, who assumed the major archbishop’s office on Jan. 11.

He said Panachiyil's cruel death was “a shame on the state of Kerala.”

The incident shows the state's inability "to protect the people from wild animals,” he added.

The Western Ghat area houses some 10,000 or about 25 percent of wild Asian elephants in the world, according to published documents.

Most members of the Syro-Malabar Church are farmers living on the periphery of the Western Ghat mountains. They routinely report wild animals attacking their homes and crops.

In the past five years at least 637 people, most of them farmers, died in wild animal attacks, according to government data presented in the state legislative house last year.

The latest death happened barely two months after a tiger attacked and killed Prajeesh Kuttappan Marottiparambil, 36, on Dec. 10 when he entered the forest to cut grass for his cows.

Cheriyan Joseph, a farmer based in the Idukki district in the state, says that the laws prohibit them from attacking and killing wild animals.

“We are unable to protect our farms,” Joseph said adding wild boars and elephants attack their farms, where they cultivate our food crops, vegetables and other crops.

“You could be jailed for killing a wild boar,” Joseph told UCA News on Feb. 12. He said state laws are more inclined to protect animals than humans and their property.

The government data lists 1,004 locations in the state as prone to wildlife attacks.

Catholic leaders like Thattil want the government to fence those locations to ensure the safety of the people.

The prelate is the head of more than 5 million Catholics in the Syro-Malabar Church, living in India and abroad.

Christians make up 18.38 percent of Kerala’s 33 million people while Muslims are 26. 56 percent and Hindus 54.73 percent.

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