Lightning killed 18 elephants in Assam: report

Forest Department rules out any foul play

June 04, 2021 04:50 am | Updated 04:50 am IST - GUWAHATI

A strong negative lightning flash with a peak current of 39,000 amperes at 9.28 p.m. killed the 18 elephants in Kandali Proposed Reserve Forest in central Assam’s Nagaon district on May 13, an autopsy report has concluded.

Making the exhaustive report public on Thursday, Assam Environment and Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya ruled out any foul play such as a conscious attempt of electrocution, revenge killing, poisoning.

The report prepared by the North Eastern Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (NERDDL) in Guwahati with meteorological inputs from the North East Satellite Application Centre at Umiam in Meghalaya also negated any anthrax outbreak.

A 10-member team of wildlife experts and veterinarians had conducted the investigation at the site and the post-mortem.

"From the available history, detailed study of the circumstantial evidence at the site, study of gross and histopathological lesions, laboratory reports nullifying the presence of anthrax-like bacilli and any toxins or its metabolites in the submitted samples and correlation with the available meteorological data that prevailed during that period, in our opinion, the 18 elephants found dead in the Kandali hills have died due to electrocution by lightning,” a detailed report submitted the vet team on May 27 said.

"As per in situ spot evidence, the death of the elephants in the herd may not be attributed to any infectious pathological agent or any toxin or poison,” the NERDDL report on June 2 concluded.

“Losing 18 elephants together is unbearable, but the autopsy report has negated any foul play,” Mr. Suklabaidya said.

He also cited the observations of Markus Hofmeyr, a wildlife veterinarian with the global Rhino Recovery Fund and Vivek Memon of Asian Elephant Special Group that the cause of death may be lightning strike as such incidents are not uncommon.

Green activists, however, have doubted the autopsy report. One of them, Golaghat-based Apurba Ballav Goswami, lodged an FIR at the Samaguri police station in Nagaon district seeking an independent probe on the death of the elephants.

He argued that the focus of the probe should be on a 15MW solar power project coming up at Mikir Bamuni Grant close to where the elephants died. The fencing around 93 acres of land for the project blocked the traditional route of the elephants, forcing them to take a detour to finally face the disaster.

The solar project has been in focus because of frequent clashes with Adivasi and Karbi tribal villagers who say their lands were taken by deceit.

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