Three people, allegedly part of a gang of poachers supplying game meat to customers during the COVID-19 lockdown, have been arrested in Kerala today.
They were arrested from their homes at Pathanapuram in Kollam, following an inquiry into the death of an elephant.
It was in early April that locals in the area alerted forest department officials about an elephant roaming around with its mouth blown off.
Forest department officials tried to save the elephant for two days, but the animal passed away on April 11.
Investigations into the case were intensified after a second, similar case came to light last week and created a nationwide furore.
The three people arrested today — Ranjith, Sharath and Animon — are locals of Karavur, the area where the injured elephant was found.
In a press conference, forest department officials of Pathanapuram range informed media that the three were part of a five-member larger gang that was engaged in poaching wild animals.
According to Forest Department officials, the national lock-down that came into effect in late March had led to a sudden demand for alternative sources of meat.
Most of the meat consumed in Kerala is supplied by neighboring states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. When this was disrupted by the Coronavirus lock-down, there was increased demand for game meat.
To meet this, the gang set explosive-laded pineapples at various places to kill deer, boar and other medium sized animals.
The elephant that died on April 11 was an unintended victim of one of the traps, Forest Department officials said.
Department officials were able to recover guns, explosives and pineapples from the house of one of the three, while they dug out bones of wild animals from the compound of one of the others.
One of the three arrested persons does not have a full set of fingers due to an accident involving explosives, said the officials.
Two more members of the gang are on the run and will be arrested shortly, department officials said.
Forest department officials said the gang also deals in wild animal parts, particularly snake oil extracted from the fat of pythons illegally caught from the nearby forest.
The resolution of the Pathanapuram case sheds more light on a similar incident involving another elephant that came to light last week.
Forest Department officials are also working on a similar pineapple bomb theory to track down the perpetrators of that crime, which ended in the death of an elephant around ten days ago.
Videos and photos taken by a Forest Department official, along with a touching note penned by the official, had gone viral across the country last week, resulting in widespread outrage.
So far, one person, P Wilson, has been arrested in that case, and further inquiries are on.
Wilson has been arrested on the basis of reports that he uses pineapple bombs to kill wild animals intruding into the plantation where he works as a caretaker.