IMAGE: ELEPHANTS IN RICE FIELD
Anupam Nath  /  AP
Elephants from the nearby Amsung reserve forest roam a rice field in search of food near Gauhati, India, on March 22. The town over the weekend saw one elephant kill a villager and another menace fishermen.
updated 4/30/2007 2:03:19 PM ET 2007-04-30T18:03:19

A wild elephant killed a villager in India's remote northeast while another of the animals chased fishermen in a swamp, authorities said, as habitat destruction forces the elephants to seek food in populated areas.

The elephant had been feeding near a bamboo grove when suddenly turned and attacked a villager returning home on a bicycle Friday night near Chakradeo, a village on the outskirts of Assam state's capital, Gauhati, said wildlife official S. Nath.

"Villagers reported the man shouting for help, and heard the loud trumpeting of the elephant at the dead of night on Friday. The body has been recovered by locals," Nath told The Associated Press.

Within hours, another wild elephant chased a group of fishermen who were in boats at Deepor Beel, a sprawling swamp near Gauhati, Nath said.

The elephant got close to the fishermen, but it was then distracted by a flock of birds, villager Utpal Das said.

India's northeast is believed to have the world's largest concentration of wild Asiatic elephants, with Assam — one of the seven states in the region — accounting for more than 5,000 of them.

"Its great to have such a huge number of elephants, but the increasing man-elephant conflict following the shrinkage in their habitat due to the growing human population is giving us nightmares," said Pradyut Bordoloi, a former forest and environment minister in Assam.

Destruction of the elephants' natural habitat is forcing them to forage for food in areas inhabited by humans. Conservationists say more than 600 people have been killed in attacks by wild elephants during the past 16 years.

Angry villagers have killed nearly 270 elephants in the past five years in the state.

Satellite imagery by the National Remote Sensing Agency, a federal agency, show that nearly 700,000 acres of thick forests in Assam were cleared by human encroachments in 1996-2000.

Conservationists said 19 wild elephants were poisoned to death in northern Assam's Sonitpur district in 2001 after they feasted on standing crops and demolished several homes. The area is 150 miles north of Gauhati.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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