Loss Of Habitat In India Pits Elephants vs. People

Wild elephant herds have been terrorizing India's remote northeast, killing people, flattening houses, and even guzzling local rice beer supplies, prompting villagers to retaliate against the pachyderms with firecrackers and bonfires.

With an estimated 5,000 elephants, Assam state has the largest concentration of wild Asiatic elephants in India, said M.C. Malakar, Assam's chief wildlife warden.The big herds, faced with shrinking forest cover and human encroachment of their corridors, venture into human settlements looking for food and attack those who try to stop them.

The elephants have stampeded across the region, stomping down houses and feasting on standing crops, Pradyut Bordoloi, Assam state's forest minister, said.Rice beer is an attraction. Workers at tea plantations make rice beer at home and store it in drums."There are many instances of wild elephants guzzling the brew and returning for more," Bordoloi said.

Wild elephants have killed at least 22 people this year in the state, wildlife authorities say. A rapidly shrinking habitat is the main reason elephants have killed more than 600 people in the last 15 years, the authorities say.On Oct. 26, wild elephants guzzled rice beer kept in drums in Marongi, a village 175 miles east of Assam's main city of Gauhati, and then went on a rampage, trampling three people to death and wounding two others, India media reported.

Wildlife officials and villagers use firecrackers and bonfires to scare away the large herds, Bordoloi said. Villagers also beat on drums.In 2001, at least 19 wild elephants were poisoned to death by angry villagers, Bordoloi said.Satellite imagery showed that as many as 113,315 acres of thick forests were cleared by human encroachers in from 1996 to 2000, leading to the breakup of traditional elephant corridors and their habitat, Bordoloi said.

A government ban on capturing elephants and restrictions on sending them to other states has aggravated Assam's problem.By Wasbir HussainAssociated Press - 11/21/2004Topic: Endangered Species
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