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Jumbos break into campus

Bhubaneswar/Cuttack, Jan. 23: A herd of 14 wild elephants forced its way into the Aviation Research Centre’s high-security campus in Charbatia, 15km from Cuttack, early this morning by breaking the boundary wall.

The herd from the Chandaka forests in the backyard of Bhubaneswar has forayed into the area via Athgarh, said a forest official. Yesterday, it had been spotted near the cashew plantations around ward No. 13 of the Choudwar municipality near the campus.

Forest department sources said another herd of 22 elephants has also been spotted near Kapilash Road on the other side of the Safa forest range. The movement of this group is being constantly monitored. The incident is the latest example of elephants, driven by habitat degradation, straying into human habitations.

According to forest officials, the herd moved out of the Chandaka forest and entered Choudwar after crossing the Athgarh and Damani forest ranges in search of food.

“Since there is a possibility that the elephants might damage houses in the area, an operation to drive them back has been planned. It will be executed during the evening hours,” said Sudarshan Behera, Cuttack divisional forest officer.

Senior forest officials from Athgarh and Khuntuni are camping in the area to prevent any mishap. Railway officials have been informed about the movement of the herd and all trains passing through Nirgundi and Dhenkanal stations, not far from the spot, have been asked to reduce their speed.

The precaution with the railways is being taken as the controversy over the killing of six elephants on railway tracks in Ganjam district on December 30 last year is yet to die down.

State government officials have held the railways responsible for the casualties which occurred when the Coromondel Express running at 110km per hour hit the herd while it was crossing the tracks near Subalaya village, which is part of a designated elephant zone.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik last week wrote to Union environment and forest minister Jayanti Natrajan, urging her to prevail upon the railways to ensure speed restrictions on trains while negotiating elephant reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.