Guwahati, May 15 : The committee constituted by Assams Wildlife Department on Saturday confirmed that the 18 wild elephants were killed in central Assams Nagaon district on Wednesday after being struck by a massive 'lightning bolt, officials said.
An official statement of the probe panel said that after thorough examinations of the carcasses and based on circumstantial evidence, the team of experts and officials suggested that the cause of death of these elephants, which appeared to be part of a herd, could be due to a lightning strike.
"However, the samples collected after post-mortem by the investigating team are being further examined for microbiological and toxicological aspects in the laboratory.
"This freak natural incident is also being corroborated based on meteorological reports. After these examinations a final report on the incident would be made public," the release said.
A tweet from the Assam Chief Minister's Office (CMO) on Saturday said: "As per direction of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, customary last rites of the dead elephants performed by Environment and Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya, Jitu Goswami,MLA." "Burial given by Chief Wildlife Warden M.K. Yadava and other forest officials till late evening. Burial images showed severe burn injuries due to lightning strike." However, many organisations, experts and environmentalists including wildlife expert and former top official of the Assam government Annarwaruddin Choudhary termed the death of 18 elephants as very "mysterious" and demanded thorough probes by independent agencies and experts.
Nagaon district Deputy Commissioner Kavitha Padmanabhan while talking to IANS said that the 18 wild elephants including calves died due to a massive thunderbolt on Wednesday night in the mountainous Kandali Proposed Reserve Forest (PRF).
Assam's Forest (Wildlife) Department on Thursday constituted an 8-member team headed by Deputy Conservator of Forest (Publicity) K.K. Deori to probe the death of the 18 elephants.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (WL) and Chief Wildlife Warden M.K. Yadava issued a notification constituting the inquiry committee which was asked to submit a preliminary report within three days and the final report within fifteen days.
The notification said that the investigating officer would undertake detailed investigation of the site including water and salt lick quality, and may engage experts and agencies for the purpose, and carry out detailed fact-finding from fringe communities and first informants.
Local people informed the forest officials that the carcasses of the elephants were scattered at different places in the deep forest area.
Yadava said that cases are often reported of lightning striking animals and five elephants had died due to this in West Bengal recently, but Wednesday's incident in Nagaon is huge and terrible.
According to the latest census, India is home to 27,312 elephants and of them, Assam is home to an estimated 5,719, many of whom constantly come out of the forests in search of food.
Conservationists have been urging the government to properly protect the habitats of the wild elephants and make available sufficient fodder, prevent encroachment of people and establish free corridors for the elephants to move between forests safely.
-- The story has been published from a wire feed without any modifications to the text