India investigates deaths of 18 elephants who were ‘hit by lightning’

Carcasses of elephants, Assam, India, photo: Reuters/Anuwar Hazarika
Carcasses of elephants, Assam, India, photo: Reuters/Anuwar Hazarika

Indian authorities are investigating the deaths of at least 18 elephants. Forest officials said the animals had been killed by lightning, but conservationists have doubts.

The dead herd was found in the Kandali Proposed Reserve Forest in the Indian state of Assam on Thursday. Forest officials and a local lawmaker, Jitu Goswami, told AFP they believed the elephants died after lightning struck the forest.

But prominent conservationist Soumyadeep Datta, from the environmental group Nature’s Beckon, said that was unlikely based on social media images.

“Poisoning could be behind the death of the elephants,” Datta told AFP. “We have to wait for the autopsy report, which the forest department will do soon.”

A team of vets and officials headed to the site on Friday, together with Parimal Shuklabaidya, Assam’s forests and environment minister. “This is a very sad incident, such incident has never occurred in the forests of Assam,” Suklabaidya said.

India is home to over 50% of Asian elephants, but their population has declined in recent years due to habitat loss and poaching for their tusks.

The incidents of elephants killed by locals are rising as humans intrude further into forest areas where elephants live.

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