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Sunday, November 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Beer-swilling elephants terrorize Indian villages
By Wasbir Hussain
GAUHATI, India 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 settlements looking for food, attacking those who try to stop them.
The wild elephants have stampeded across the region, stomping down houses and feasting on standing crops, Pradyut Bordoloi, Assam state's forest minister, said yesterday. Wild elephants have killed at least 22 people this year in the state.
Rice beer is an attraction. Workers in tea plantations in Assam make rice beer at home and store it in drums.
On Oct. 26, wild elephants drank rice beer kept in drums in Marongi, a village about 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, bonfires and drums to scare away the large herds, Bordoloi said.
In 2001, at least 19 wild elephants were poisoned to death by villagers, Bordoloi said.
Officials also use electric fences and dig trenches, but these are meant to protect people from elephant attacks, not to scare the elephants.
The state has created buffer zones to tackle the menace. An area on the periphery of villages is cultivated with plants found palatable by the elephants, and the second layer has plants like mustard that elephants shun.
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