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he Assam government on Friday decided to conduct forensic tests on the 18 elephants that allegedly died from lightning strikes two days ago in the Barhampur area of Nagaon district.
The bodies of the elephants were buried on Friday after a team of veterinarians conducted post-mortem examinations. Some remains have been sent to the state forensic laboratory in Guwahati for further tests. The incident took place at Bamuni Pahar under Kothiatoli forest range of Nagaon district. The bodies of the pachyderms were found on Thursday.
Though the initial inquiry revealed lightning to be the likely cause of the deaths, wildlife experts suspected that mass poisoning could also be a reason as Assam has previously witnessed deaths of elephants due to poisoning — mostly perpetrated by local cultivators. Rampant and unplanned development in the state’s forest areas have encroached on elephant corridors, increasing man-animal conflict, with herds of elephants sometimes wreaking havoc on agricultural fields and hamlets.
“From what we saw, it appears the deaths were caused due to lightning as there were no visible signs of struggle before the elephants died. But the exact cause will be known only after reports of the post-mortem and forensic examinations,” said forest and environment minister Parimal Suklabaidya.
The Assam government has constituted a team to be headed by a senior forest officer and seven veterinarians to probe the incident. “The post-mortem reports will be available in a day or two, but we may have to wait a little longer for the outcome of the forensic tests…,” said P Sivakumar, director, Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve.
Elephant expert and CEO of Aaranyak, a wildlife NGO, Bibhab Talukdar, said that evidence suggests lightning was the most probable cause of the deaths.