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· Master of Scaremonies
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Turf wars escalate between people, elephants in India northeast

Fri Sep 22, 10:56 PM ET

Deadly turf wars between humans and hungry elephants in India's northeast have reached alarming proportions, say experts who plan an emergency meeting next 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 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 the quest of food.

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

The meeting, to be held at the famous Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary in Assam, is aimed at easing the conflict.

Conservationists, wildlife wardens and village leaders will take part in the meeting.

"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 shows between 1996 and 2000 villagers encroached on some 280,000 hectares (691,880 acres) of thick forest in Assam, authorities say.

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, officials said.

In recent months, herds of wild elephants have been wreaking havoc in several parts of Assam after straying into settlements and drinking liquor brewed from fermented rice 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 in the northeast came as animal welfare groups called for an elephant ban in India's financial capital after a 25-year-old pachyderm died Friday after being hit by a water tanker.

Laxmi, one of 15 licensed elephants employed for religious ceremonies and processions in Mumbai, died a day after breaking her leg and suffering spinal injuries when she was struck by the tanker whose driver was allegedly drunk at the wheel.
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