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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
'Grieving' elephants on rampage
India's elephant population suffers from human encroachment
Villagers in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have fled their homes to escape a rampaging and grief-stricken elephant herd, officials say.

They say the animals are agitated because one of their herd disappeared.

Officials say the missing animal became disorientated, and fell into a ditch and drowned over the weekend.

Residents of the village of Banta gave the 17-year-old female a quiet burial three days ago, but marauding elephants have raided the village ever since.


"We have not slept for three days and the few of us left are lighting huge bonfires to keep the elephants at bay without success," villager Sambhu Mahato told the Reuters news agency in Banta, 78 km (49 miles) west of the state capital, Ranchi.

The dead elephant is believed to have had strayed out of nearby forests on Saturday. It became disorientated, fell into an irrigation ditch and drowned.

Jharkhand map

Officials say crops and homes have been destroyed by the animals and that "thousands of farmers and their families" have been forced to leave the area.

They are now being provided with accommodation by friends and relatives or are being looked after by local officials.

"We have now formed a team of 30 people armed with crackers to try and chase away the elephants as they are out to avenge the death of their mate," UR Biswas, Jharkhand's leading forests official, told Reuters in Ranchi.

Experts say that human encroachment has led to a lack of forest cover in eastern India, forcing elephants and other animals regularly to leave their homes in search of food, which in turn triggers conflict with locals.

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