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Guards chasing jumbos run out of ammo

Jorhat, Nov. 29: Forest guards of Jorhat range had to fire in the air over 70 rounds last night almost emptying their stock of ammunition to keep at bay a marauding herd of elephants that has been wreaking havoc on the outskirts of Jorhat for the past few days.

“Never before in recent years our staff fired so many rounds on a single night at the same place to chase away elephants,” a worried Jorhat forest range officer Pankaj Kalita told this correspondent today.

The wandering herd which the forest staff call river elephants has been moving along the banks of the Brahmaputra for the past 14 years in Upper Assam. Its number has increased over the years.

The forest department blames encroachment and massive deforestation in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh for loss of habitat and blockade of elephant corridors.

Kalita said the herd had been straying into villages in the past couple of days and was damaging paddy crops. He added that the herd on Monday night had moved to Borigaon village near the northeast part of the town and staying in a bamboo groove near the village during daytime. The elephants come out only after sunset and continue to destroy crops till the break of dawn.

Kalita said a forest team of seven persons equipped with weapons, crackers and search lights on an SUV had been chasing the herd the whole night, but the elephants were behaving in an aggressive manner on seeing villagers with torches coming out to guide the forest team.

He said the team has been firing in the air almost every night for the past four days. Last night, the situation was “horrible” as the herd was repeatedly coming back to the fields after being chased.

“Our staff fired 71 rounds from their double-barrelled guns and .315 rifles forcing the herd to move away,” Kalita said. He said bullet stock of the staff was almost exhausted because of such heavy firings.

Kalita said use of such a huge amount of ammunition on a single night for chasing away elephants was the highest in the range and perhaps in the state.

“I have never heard of it before. Usually 15 to 20 rounds or may be sometimes 30 rounds are fired in the air to ward off an elephant herd,” the range officer said. Kalita said the forest staff were under “tremendous pressure” in such situations as a large number of people come out to assist the forest staff thereby raising the possibility of the herd attacking the people.