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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 22:17 GMT
Football festival aids elephants
Elephants play football with riders perched on their backs in Kaziranga National Park
About 150 elephants are taking part in the festival
Almost 100 elephants have taken part in a football game in India as part of an annual festival aimed at encouraging locals to protect the animals.

Up to 10,000 fans watched the first match at the three-day event, which is taking place in the Kaziranga National Park in the state of Assam.

Elephants have killed at least 150 people in Assam and neighbouring Meghalaya in the past two years.

In retaliation villagers have killed up to 200 elephants.

'Promoting tourism'

Around 5,000 elephants roam freely in the north-eastern state of Assam, of which around 150 are taking part in the festival.

State forest minister Pradyut Bordoloi said the football match was aimed at making local inhabitants acknowledge and accept the needs of the many elephant herds that dwell in the state.

But there is also a monetary incentive, he said.

"The festival is organised to promote tourism, besides increasing awareness among locals about the need to protect elephants from being killed," he told French news agency AFP.

Experts have attributed an increase in elephant attacks on humans on growing elephant numbers and the devastation of the animal's natural habitat.

Local elephants have also developed a taste for rice beer brewed by local villagers and can cause devastation when they become intoxicated.

Earlier in January four elephants drunk on rice beer electrocuted themselves in the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, wildlife officials reported.

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