updated 12/15/2006 11:50:46 AM ET 2006-12-15T16:50:46

Hunters in India’s remote northeast are tracking a rogue elephant blamed for 14 deaths in the region and named after Osama bin Laden by fearful villagers.

The order came after the bull dubbed Laden, which has twice evaded attempts to kill him, was blamed for the death of a woman Wednesday near the thickly wooden evergreen jungle where it lives.

“We have ordered a hunter to shoot and kill the 10-feet tall tuskless bull that is believed to have killed up to 14 people in the past two years,” Chandan Bora, a wildlife ranger, said Friday from Bishwanath Chariali, 150 miles north of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.

“I am looking for my target with a .400 bore rifle assisted by five forestry officials, but Laden is known to do the vanishing trick every time a hunter is put on its trail,” said Dipen Phukan, one of Assam’s three licensed elephant hunters.

Conflicts between humans and elephants have escalated in northeastern India in recent years as the destruction of the elephants’ natural habitat has expanded, forcing them to forage for food in human areas.

In the past five years, more than 250 people have been killed in Assam by elephants, while angry villagers killed 268 elephants during the same period. Assam is estimated to have 5,300 Asiatic elephants.

“Post 9/11, villagers across Assam have started naming any elephant they suspect of bringing down their homes or feasting on crops as Laden, viewing such pachyderms as terrorists,” said Kushal Konwar Sharma, an elephant expert and teacher at the College of Veterinary Science in Gauhati.

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