November 16, 2006

Three wild elephants electrocuted in Assam

Guwahati, Nov 13: Three Asiatic wild elephants have died of electrocution after a high tension wire fell on a herd in Assam, wildlife officials said Monday.

A forest warden said an elephant herd Sunday strayed into the Behali tea plantation, about 230 km from here, and tripped over an electric pole.

"The high tension wire first electrocuted a full-grown female elephant and immediately two of her calves tried to rescue her and in the process all the three died," Chandan Bora, divisional forest officer, told IANS by telephone.

The herd of about 35 elephants was moving in the area for quite sometime causing large-scale depredation to paddy fields and damaging village huts.

"It was a touching sight when the rest of the herd surrounded the dead elephants and were literally in tears, trumpeting at times and licking them frequently ," the warden said.

The herd retreated from the accident site after sundown Sunday.

"We have ordered an investigation to probe if the electric wire fell on the elephant herd after the animals tripped on the pole or was it an intentional ploy by villagers to take revenge as the herd had damaged their properties," Bora said.

Deadly turf wars between humans and hungry elephants in Assam have reached alarming proportions.

Shrinking forests and encroachment on elephant territory by people have forced the animals to stray from their habitats into human settlements in the quest of food.

Elephants have killed nearly 240 people in Assam in the past five years while 265 elephants have died during the same period, many of them victims of retaliation by angry humans, said a wildlife department report released last month.

Satellite imagery shows that between 1996 and 2000, villagers encroached on some 280,000 hectares of thick forests in Assam, according to authorities.

The attitude of people towards elephants has become less tolerant as the pachyderms have become an increasing problem for villagers. Villagers often poison the marauding elephants, while in the past they drove them away by beating drums or bursting firecrackers, said officials.

Assam has India's largest population of Asiatic elephants, estimated at around 5,300, according to a wildlife census in 2002. 



"Take this tip from nature: The forest would be a very silent place if no birds sang except those who sang best."

Bernard Meltzer

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