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7 Elephants Dead of Suspected Poisoning in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lankan police found carcasses of seven elephants who died of poisoning in a wild forest reserve on Sept. 29. VOA News / YouTube screenshot

Seven elephants have been reported dead of suspected poisoning near a protected habitat refuge in Sri Lanka.


"Since Friday, we have found the remains of seven cow elephants, including a tusker," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told the Agence-France Presse (AFP). The elephants were discovered at Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site encompassing the "last extensive patch of primary lowland forest" in the nation. The region is afforded the highest level of legal protection under national laws

Four carcasses were discovered on Friday, including a pregnant female, and another three the following day. It is believed that all seven elephants belong to the same herd, the BBC reports. The publication adds that another elephant was found dead on Monday from a gunshot wound, but it is not yet clear whether the deaths are related.

Every year, the AFP reports that nearly 200 elephants are killed, many by farmers protecting their crops. On the other hand, elephants kill roughly 50 people annually when they come into growing villages encroaching near their habitat. As food and water become scarce, the animals will often feed on agricultural products, leading to conflict between the humans and elephants. In the last ten years, it is believed that more than 1,300 elephants have been killed as a result of crop-raiding but that does not come without a human cost; estimates suggest that more than 500 humans have also been killed in that same timeframe, according to the conservation organization EleAid.

"As a result of forest clearing, human-elephant conflicts have also increased and led to the destruction of property and death of both humans and elephants," wrote the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "The problem is compounded by the elephant's preference for crops such as sugar cane, bananas, and other fruits frequently grown in the regions."

The Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is the largest of four Asian elephant subspecies. Though data on wild elephant populations is difficult to come by and verify, it is estimated that at last count there were no more than 4,000 wild elephants left in the country compared to more than 19,000 just a century ago, notes EleAid. Current estimates suggest that about 6 percent of the wild animals are dying each year, according to the WWF. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers Asian elephants endangered due to their decreasing population numbers, namely from conflict that arrive through agricultural production and resource extraction like hunting and logging.

Wildlife experts and veterinarians will reportedly conduct necropsies in order to determine the cause of death of the seven elephants.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.