Guwahati: Human-elephant conflict has reached alarming proportions in Assam with at least four wild Asiatic elephants being poisoned by the villagers in the past one week, wildlife authorities said.
"An enquiry by the chief wildlife warden is on and strict action will be taken against the culprits," Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain told IANS.
Two calves were found dead at the Diffolu tea garden, close to the Kaziranga National Park, about 220 km east of Guwahati Oct 7. The body of a pregnant elephant was found close to the outskirts of the sanctuary Oct 11.
Another adult tusker was found dead outside the sanctuary Oct 12, close to a human settlement.
Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh Tuesday asked Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to probe the incidents. "Strict action should be taken against the guilty," Ramesh said in a statement.
"In almost all the cases, the elephants` tongues turned blue, indicating the use of poison," a veterinarian said, requesting anonymity.
"Preliminary investigations show that elephants were poisoned by villagers living in the Diffolu tea garden area. We are waiting for the forensic test reports before taking further action," Hussain said.
In 2009, four elephants were poisoned to death by angry villagers after the animals entered the human settlement, destroying crops, tearing apart homes and killing at least two people.
"The modus operandi of the recent deaths is similar to the 2009 case. It appears that the locals mixed poison in either country liquor or a mixture of jackfruit, sugarcane and other eatables the elephants like to eat," a senior wildlife official said.
During the past two months, herds of wild elephants have wreaked havoc in several parts of Assam. Experts say the animals are forced to move out of jungles due to increasing encroachment by humans, leading to these clashes.
"A shrinking forest cover and encroachment upon elephant corridors have forced the animals to stray into human settlement areas, often attracted by the smell of locally brewed rice beer," Kushal Konwar Sharma, a noted elephant expert and a teacher at the College of Veterinary Science in Guwahati, said.
A recent report by the wildlife department showed that wild Asiatic elephants have killed about 279 people in Assam since 2001, while 289 elephants have died during the period, many of them victims of retaliation.
Data from satellite imagery shows villagers encroaching upon about 280,000 hectares of forests in Assam. Traditionally, villagers drove away marauding herds by beating drums or bursting firecrackers. They have now started to poison the animals.
"Some elephants were also killed by poisoned-tipped arrows," the official said.
The last elephant census carried shows there are about 5,500 elephants in Assam, more than half of India`s count of 10,000.