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18 Endangered Elephants Found Dead in Indian Forest Preserve

Animals
18 Endangered Elephants Found Dead in Indian Forest Preserve
A woman offers prayers for one of the 18 elephants found dead in Assam, India. Anuwar Ali Hazarika / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Authorities in India are investigating after at least 18 Asian elephants died mysteriously in a protected area in the northeastern state of Assam.


Authorities believe a lightning strike is to blame for the deaths which mark the first time in 20 years that so many elephants have died in Assam at once, as BBC News reported.

"Deeply pained by the death of 18 elephants last night due to massive thunderstorm under Kothiatoli Range in Nagaon," Assam Minister of Excise, Forest & Environment and Fisheries Parimal Suklabaidya tweeted in response to the deaths.

The mystery began Thursday when villagers found 14 elephants dead in the Kundoli reserve forest, as Al Jazeera reported. The bodies of four additional elephants were found scattered around the foothills of the reserve, local wildlife official MK Yadava said. Five of the elephants killed were calves, wildlife official Jayanta Goswami told The AP.

The deaths followed lightning strikes late Wednesday, and a local forest ranger said he had seen burnt trees in the area, according to Al Jazeera. Veterinarians on the scene also said that lightning was the likely cause of death, The AP reported.

However, not all wildlife advocates agree, and officials say they are conducting an autopsy to make sure.

Conservationist Soumyadeep Datt, who works for the organization Nature's Beckon, said that the images posted on social media made him think it was unlikely that the elephants were killed by lightning.

"Poisoning could be behind the death of the elephants," Datta told AFP news agency, as Al Jazeera reported. "We have to wait for the autopsy report, which the forest department will do soon."

In a later tweet, Suklabaidya said that a committee had been formed to look into the deaths, and that it would submit a detailed report within 15 days.

"We will unravel the exact reason behind their tragic death soon," he said.

Asian elephants are considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. There are an estimated 48,323 to 51,680 of these animals in the wild, and around 6,000 of them live in Assam, according to The AP. Sometimes, the animals come out of the forest for food, and this can lead to conflict between humans and animals. Conservationists have urged the government to take steps to prevent people from encroaching on the elephants' habitat, and to create wildlife corridors so that the animals can pass safely between forested areas.

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