Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Indians face growing turf wars with elephants

AFP , GUWAHATI, INDIA

Deadly turf wars between humans and hungry elephants in India's northeast have reached alarming proportions, say experts who plan an emergency meeting this week to tackle the problem.

Elephants have killed 239 people in Assam state in the past five years while 265 elephants have died during the same period, said a wildlife department report released on Friday ahead of the meeting.

The report gave no comparative figures. It said shrinking forests and encroachment on elephant territory by people have forced the animals to stray from their habitats into human settlements in search of food.

"The battle between humans and elephants is very serious," said M.C. Malakar, Assam's chief wildlife warden.

The meeting, to be held at Assam's Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary, is aimed at easing the conflict. Conservationists, wildlife wardens and village leaders will take part.

"Pachyderm herds are straying out of their habitats into human settlements looking for food," said Malakar in Guwahati, the state's main city.

Satellite imagery taken between 1996 and 2000 shows villagers encroached on some 280,000 hectares of thick forest in Assam, officials said.

The attitude of people toward the elephants has become less tolerant as the pachyderms have become an increasing problem for villagers, officials say.

Villagers often poison the marauding elephants while in the past they drove them away by beating drums or bursting firecrackers, they said.

In recent months, herds of wild elephants have been wreaking havoc in several parts of the state after straying into settlements and drinking fermented rice liquor brewed by villagers.

Assam has India's largest population of Asiatic elephants, estimated at around 5,000.

The report of the growing conflict between humans and wild elephants came as animal welfare groups called for an elephant ban in India's financial capital after a 25-year-old pachyderm died on Friday after being hit by a truck.

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