A pregnant elephant in Kerala, India died on May 27 and wildlife officials suspect it was because the animal had eaten a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers.
Local forest officer Ashique Ali said that the wild elephant—who was one-month pregnant—died while standing in the river Velliyar.
Ali told CNN:
"The postmortem report says that there was an explosion in the mouth. We have not caught any of the culprits. We don't know yet what caused the explosion"
Local villagers often leave behind fruit filled with firecrackers as a tactic to protect their fields against wild boars, but the Tribune India reported the elephant may have been fed by an unknown assailant.
According to the report, Chief Wildlife Warden Surendrakumar said he believed that a man intentionally fed the elephant the explosive fruit to "eliminate her."
He told the Press Trust of India (PTI):
"I have directed the forest officials to nab the culprit. We will punish him for 'hunting' the elephant."
The Kerala Forest Department tweeted they could not confirm the elephant's fatal injury was caused by the firecrackers stuffed inside a pineapple.
But they did add "this may be a possibility."
The elephant's death sparked international outrage—including India's environment minister Prakash Javadekar, who declared that the government has taken "a very serious note" of the incident.
The elephant was first discovered on May 23 after it had sustained injuries to its lower jaw, but when forest officers and a veterinarian tried to immobilize her for treatment, she moved away.
A wildlife officer from Silent Valley National Park told the Hindustan Times:
"First, we observed this animal on May 23 when we were informed by locals that an elephant has been roaming around in the private area of the forest."
"When one of our staff members went to saw the elephant, it was observed that the wound in the lower jaw area was exposed."
"Later, for at least 24 hours the animal was trying to look for water and on May 24 we received information that the animal has come into river Velliyar."
But the elephant was unable to get tranquilized while standing in the water because the animal could possibly drown.
"Even then the animal did not take any solid matter and only took water. It was very weak so we called a vet, he was of the opinion that it may not be possible to revive back but will see what options are available."
"Later we were told to observe the animal's behaviour."
When forest officials called for two captive elephants—named "Surendran" and "Neelakanthan"—to try and lure the injured animal to the shore, she collapsed before the rescue mission was completed.
The official continued:
"Today we thought of taking the animal to a safe spot to examine. Anyway, we had very little hope of reviving the animal because it has not been eating for many days."
"So, before we could take the animal out of the stream, it had collapsed and we hope it was a peaceful death."
Forest officer Mohan Krishnan— who was part of the Rapid Response Team—recalled the heartbreaking incident on Facebook:
"She came out to the village in search of food. She did not know about the selfish human beings that she was about to witness. She must have thought, they would spare her as she was carrying two lives. She believed everyone."
"When the pineapple that she ate burst, she must have been in shock not thinking about herself, but the child she was about to give birth to in 18 or 20 months."
"When I saw her, she was standing in the river, with her mouth and trunk submerged in water. She must have stood in the water to avoid any insects feeding on her wounds."
"We cremated her there itself. Even as fire engulfed her, I prayed to the mother in her. Being one from mankind all I could say was, sister.... sorry."
Kerala's chief wildlife warden, Surendra Kumar told CNN the case is under investigation.