Man-animal conflict: Villagers poison elephants in Assam

October 25th, 2009 - 5:09 pm ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, Oct 25 (IANS) Wildlife authorities in Assam have warned that the human-elephant conflict has reached alarming proportions with villagers poisoning to death at least four wild elephants in the past three weeks by lacing toxic chemicals in homemade moonshine.

According to wildlife officials, the latest incident of an adult male poisoned to death was reported Saturday from village Chechapani in Goalpara district, about 170 km west of Assam’s main city of Guwahati.

“Preliminary investigations revealed locals in the area killed the elephant using some toxic chemicals mixed with country liquor to avenge the death of a villager trampled to death by elephants recently,” a wildlife official said.

This is the fourth elephant to have been poisoned to death in Assam during the past three weeks - the other three deaths were reported from northern Assam’s Udalguri district.

“The modus operandi is the same with locals either mixing poisonous substances in country liquor or mixing it with jackfruit, sugarcane and other eatables fancied by elephants,” the official said.

During the past two months, herds of wild elephants have been wreaking havoc in several parts of Assam with the jumbos fancying the paint-peeling moonshine that many of the villagers brew from fermented rice.

Experts say wild elephants have been moving out of the jungles with people encroaching upon animal corridors leading to an increasing number of elephant attacks on villages.

“A shrinking forest cover and encroachment of elephant corridors have forced the pachyderms to stray out of their habitats into human settlement areas and more often attracted by the smell of locally brewed rice beer,” A. Das, owner of two tamed elephants, said.

In 2001, close to 40 elephants were poisoned to death allegedly by the villagers.

“The battle between humans and elephants is very serious with the beasts killing people and destroying properties and locals attacking the elephants and causing heavy casualties,” the wildlife official said.

A report by the wildlife department said wild Asiatic elephants have killed about 260 people in Assam since 2001, while 280 elephants have died during the period, many of them victims of retaliation by angry humans.

Satellite imagery shows villagers encroached on about 280,000 hectares of thick forests in Assam. Villagers in the past drove away marauding herds by beating drums or bursting firecrackers. Now they poison the animals.

“We have found that some elephants were brought down with poisoned-tipped arrows,” the official said.

The last elephant census carried out by wildlife authorities recorded about 5,500 elephants in Assam, more than half of India’s count of 10,000.

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