Agonised over the Kerala elephant death? Here's food for thought

Where your dinner begins (Getty Images)

The death of an elephant in India’s southern state of Kerala has triggered outrage on social media mainly for the manner in which it occurred. The pregnant elephant bit on a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers, such as the ones that are usually kept in the fields to ward off wild boars. When the crackers burst the elephant sustained serious internal burns and walked around in agony for a few days, unable to eat or drink, before it died.

Gruesome as this is and the justified extreme reactions it has sparked online, the elephant episode pales in comparison to the institutionalised mass murder engineered around the world by the billion-dollar meat, leather and fur industries.

In India, a cow-worshipping, largely peace-loving country, incidents of dogs being maimed for fun and cats being flung off high-rises are somewhat prevalent. There are basket-cases everywhere with chemical imbalances in the brain who will forever seek pleasure in the pain of the suppressed, the feeble, the mute.

But these are nothing but criminal acts and are, in varying degrees, recognised as such by the social and legal framework of the country. What the meat and leather industries have done for decades has almost unequivocal social sanction — give or take PETA and a few strip-for-a-cause celebrities! The stories you hear about cows’ legs being broken to make them fit in the back of a truck or chickens’ beaks being cut to prevent them from gouging each other to death are all true.

There is the argument that the killing animals for food is in some way a natural order of things — since prehistory, living beings, omnivores and carnivores, at least, have killed and fed on each other. But never in prehistory has a species had such a massive advantage over all other life forms.

Never has a species bred, raised and fattened another for the sake of consumption. Agreed, that humans are themselves responsible — with loads of evolutionary luck — for their rise to become the planet’s apex predators. But that does not detract from the series of cold, clinical and cruel steps involved in putting a cheese burger on the table. In the days of the coronavirus pandemic, is it not even more pertinent to question how meat factories are being run what risks they pose to the causation of future pandemics.

As the wisest, most intelligent and most sentient creatures in this ecosystem, humans alone have the infinite capacity to be humane. It is this, rather than than opposable thumbs or a massive prefrontal cortex, that sets them apart from all other life on the planet. It’s time we put that capacity to good use all the time, and not just when a pregnant elephant dies from a firecracker explosion in her mouth.