Conservation ConversationsWildlife



Investigations begin into the horrifying deaths of an entire “Herd of 18 Elephants” in Nagaon district of central Assam, India. 

Although the state forest department has claimed the deaths due to lightning strike and subsequent electrocution, many are not convinced by this reason for such a colossal loss of jumbos in a single incident.

Newly appointed Assam Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya visited the incident spot on Friday to assess on-the-spot scenario. He later tweeted, “An enquiry committee headed by an AFS Officer and a team of veterinarians has been instituted. The preliminary report of enquiry has been asked to be submitted within 3 days and a detailed investigation report within 15 days. We will unravel the exact reason behind their tragic death soon.”

This herd was found dead on Thursday afternoon on Bamuni hills which falls under Barhampur police station limits in Nagaon district. The herd reportedly died on Wednesday night in Kothiatoli Range of the Kandoli Proposed Reserve Forest in Nagaon Division bordering Karbi Anglong.

On Thursday, the bodies of four jumbos were found at the base of the hills while the rest of the carcasses were strewn here and there on top of the hill. It was the local villagers who first informed the forest officials about four elephant deaths downhill. 14 bodies were later found in groups of 2,3 and 4 by forest staff when they climbed the hill. After the post mortem, the bodies will be disposed of as per WPA act and MoEF guidelines. The dead included four elephant calves.

According to forest officials, they may have died due to lightening resulting in the electrocution of so many animals. However, wildlife groups and environmentalists called upon the Centre and the State for a thorough investigation into the terrible tragedy and immediate action against offenders.

Preliminary reports coming from the state said more than 14 elephants were suspected to have been killed by lightning. However, wildlife groups in the state reiterated that it was the handiwork of local inhabitants who desperately want to clear the proposed reserve forests for encroachments. The theory of lightening striking this herd has been rejected by some forest officials and wildlife groups. Lightning seems to be highly unlikely as there have been never such incidents in the past few decades. Apart from this, the frequency and intensity of lightnings in the state have waned considerably in recent times. 

A Retired PCCF said, “There has been no clear conclusion on the reasons for so many deaths. I suspect they may have died due to electrocution as there are live electric wires hanging around at many places. In fact, in some places, live wires are left by people deliberately. However, at some other places, it is due to the negligence of the power department.”

However, a retired chief wildlife warden who visited the incident spot said, “It is prima facie lightning only. The elephant deaths have occurred in the hills where there are no powerlines. It’s really very sad and shocking day for all of us here in Assam. Just visited the site, preliminary indication is pointing death due to lightening but samples were taken on Friday by the veterinary team, so, we have to wait for the findings.”

Assam has the second highest elephant population in the country with 5719 elephants as per 2017 census. There are two exclusive elephant reserves in Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong area with a combined area of 11,000 square kilometres. With the elephant population on the decline in the country due to continuing rail and road kills, electrocutions, conflicts, poaching, smuggling of elephants from state to state, disease, etc India cannot afford to bear such a huge loss. In Assam, elephants also die when they fall into tea garden trenches as tea is grown and also expanding into the animal’s habitat.