Silchar, July 25: Two domesticated elephants turned roguish without warning and killed eight persons in Assamís Cachar district as forest officials waited interminably for permission from the wildlife warden to shoot them.
The elephants, a male and a female, went berserk around 4pm yesterday and stalked village after village along a 20-km arc on either side of the Assam-Mizoram border until dawn today. Anybody or anything that came in the way of the rampaging duo was either trampled or flung away with brute force.
By the time Mizoram police shot the two elephants at Phainam Punji village across the border, the pachyderms had devastated as many as five villages under Dholai block on the Assam side. All but one of the victims were from the five villages ó Bhaghela, Tolartal, Kullicherra, Singua Basti and Puinam Punji.
The victims were Renubala Das, 40, Jyotirmoy Barman, 50, Kalpataru Das, 35, his wife Shikha Rani Das, 25, Phulkumari Das, 55, Mainarani Das 25, Chinu Das, 5 and Abdul Rashid Mazumdar, 70.
Mazumdar used to live just across the border and had stepped out of home to go to his paddy field when the male tusker gored him. Several others were injured.
The Cachar administration announced ex gratia of Rs 50,000 to the families of the victims, but that was little consolation for residents who saw death up close during the course of the night.
Around 2,000 people shouted slogans against police and forest staff as the bodies were being taken in a convoy of vehicles to Lailapur police outpost, on the inter-state border, and then to Silchar Medical College and Hospital for post-mortem.
Youth Congress leader Goutam Das, a resident of the area, said lives could have been saved had forest guards or police taken the decision to shoot the rogues, both owned by a timber trader, Rafauddin. Mahouts employed by the timber trader told the police that the heavy iron chains with which the elephants were tethered snapped like a rope when the duo tried to break free.
Trained elephants are used to lug timber in forests across the Northeast. They are usually known to be docile except during musth, a condition triggered by a 60-fold increase in the testosterone levels of a male elephant in heat. Forest officials said female elephants were just as prone to bursts of insanity.
Villages adjoining wildlife parks and forests across Assam have long had trysts with herds of wild elephants, but this is the first time in several years that two trained jumbos have killed eight persons.
The divisional forest officer of Karimganj district, Salman Ahmed Choudhary, said an 18-member wild herd had been spotted roaming about in the forests straddling Cachar and Karimganj.