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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 14:56 GMT
Drink drives elephant to kill
Elephant in grassland
Elephants leave the forest on foraging forays
By the BBC's Ayanjit Sen in Delhi

Four people - including two children - were killed by a wild elephant this week in the eastern Indian state of Bengal, according to local forestry officials.

The elephant was apparently drawn to illicit alcohol stored inside the victim's hut.

These elephants get a taste of liquor from the nearby huts of the locals which attracts them

Forest official Udayan Dasgupta

More than 40 people are killed every year by elephants in West Bengal.

The government has to pay over $204,000 as compensation to villagers living near the forests every year for loss of lives and crops to elephants.

The elephant trampled to death all four occupants of a hut in Jalpaiguri district, about 600kms from the state capital Calcutta.

Officials say around 230 wild elephants are thought to live in the forests in northern Bengal.

Drinking habit

The state forest department's Chief Conservation Officer, Udayan Dasgupta, told the BBC that many of these have developed a dangerous drinking habit.

The problem appears to crop up when elephants get to drink the alcohol brewed illegally by villagers living on the fringes of the forest.

''These elephants often come out of the nearby forests to eat crops.

"They get a taste of liquor from the nearby huts of the locals which attracts them there.

Mahout with baby elephant
More than 200 elephants live in northern West Bengal

"This also forms a habit for the elephants,'' Mr Dasgupta says.

Forest officials say the elephants are attracted by the smell of the drink.

The brewing of illicit alcohol is common throughout the tea gardens of northern West Bengal.

Mr Dasgupta says the district administration and tea planters have been asked to take steps to put an end to illegal brewing of liquor in the area.

Population pressure

Officials say they had set up electric fencing near the forest to prevent animals from crossing over to inhabited areas.

But they say farmers have broken the fencing in the past in order to graze their cattle in the forests.

hedge in form of elephant, Delhi
Elephants are protected under Indian law

According to a recent official survey, vast forest areas have been denuded of elephants in the country.

Elephants are protected under the Indian law.

Experts say another cause for the increasing number of elephant attacks is the shrinkage of their natural forest habitat.

See also:

21 Oct 99 | South Asia
Drunken elephants trample village
04 Apr 00 | Africa
Ivory trade: Horns of a dilemma
06 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Indian minister's elephant alert
17 Apr 00 | World
Two-year freeze on ivory trade
01 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Elephants 'killed as aphrodisiac'
26 Aug 01 | South Asia
India fetes elephant god
12 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Asian elephants 'cling to survival'
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