Lightning or poisoning cited as possible causes of deaths in protected area in Assam state

Authorities are trying to establish how 18 wild Asiatic elephants died in a remote corner of Indias north-east.
The elephants, including five calves, were found dead in the protected Kondali forest reserve in the state of Assam, Jayanta Goswami, a wildlife official, told Associated Press. The forest guard reached the area on Thursday and found 14 elephants dead atop a hill and four at its bottom.
Forest officials and a local lawmaker, Jitu Goswami, told Agence France-Presse they believed the elephants died after lightning struck the forest. But Soumyadeep Datta, a prominent conservationist with the environmental activist group Natures Beckon, said that was unlikely, based on images shared on social media.
Poisoning could be behind the death of the elephants, Datta said. We have to wait for the autopsy report, which the forest department will do soon.
A team of vets and officials headed to the site on Friday together with Assams forests and environment minister, Parimal Shuklabaidya. The reserve is in Nagaon district, 95 miles east of Gauhati, the state capital.
India is home to nearly 30,000 elephants, about 60% of the wild Asian elephant population. An estimated 6,000 or more wild Asiatic elephants live in Assam. They often come out of the forests in search of food.
Conservationists have urged the government to prevent peoples encroachment into elephant territory and to establish free corridors for the elephants to move between forests safely. In recent years wild elephants have entered villages, destroyed crops and even killed people.