Despite Church warnings, tigers and elephants threaten lives in Kerala, India

Elephant Asian elephant. | Credit: Filiz Elaerts / Unsplash (CC0)

Despite repeated protests from Catholic bishops, wildlife attacks continue to pose a severe threat to the lives and properties of both Catholics and other residents in the Southern Indian state of Kerala. 

On Wednesday, local media reported significant damage from two elephants in Kerala’s Idukki district, alongside a tiger’s attack on livestock. 

This year alone, elephant attacks have resulted in 27 fatalities in the region. Video footage of a Catholic man trampled to death on Feb. 10 made headlines and sparked protests, only to be followed by news of a potential mauling by a tiger of a Catholic woman on her way to Mass four days after the fatal attack. 

Further fatal elephant tramplings followed the incident.

The Catholic Church in Kerala has been leading the charge in urging the government to take decisive action to protect human lives. 

“The series of shocking elephant killings has terrorized the people. They are even scared to go out now,” Bishop Jose Porunnedam of Mananthavady, in the district of Wayanad, told the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, on March 4.

Several major Catholic organizations, including the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) and the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, have issued statements calling for the prioritization of protecting human beings from marauding wild animals.

On Palm Sunday, Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, warned of a misconception “that wild animals are given more importance than human beings.” 

The bishops’ council urged the state government not to trivialize people’s concerns. 

“Over time, Kerala has seen a rise in the quantity and intensity of wildlife attacks. There has been a noticeable rise in wildlife attacks in Wayanad and neighboring districts in the past year,” noted the KCBC in its Feb. 18 statement.

The March 27 attacks in Idukki are part of a longer-term trend of increasing wildlife attacks. Government data for 2022-23 registered 8,873 wildlife attacks leading to 98 deaths. 

In response to the crisis, India’s federal government has announced plans to erect elephant-proof barriers across Kerala. This measure aims to prevent further tragic incidents and addresses the call from Church representatives for more effective protection strategies.

Kerala’s geography, bordering the Western Ghats — a mountain range known for its biodiversity, including approximately 25% of the world’s wild Asian elephants — complicates the situation. The onset of the dry season in February, which leads to a scarcity of forest resources, has driven wild animals to encroach more frequently on human habitats, thereby increasing the likelihood of conflict.

More than 30% of Wayanad district’s population of 800,000 are Catholics, alongside additional Christian denominations.

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