Wildlife authorities in Assam have warned that the human-elephant conflict has reached alarming proportions with the pachyderms straying into towns and cities, looking for food.
"The battle between humans and elephants is very serious with the beasts killing people and destroying properties and locals attacking the pachyderms and causing heavy casualties," said Assam's chief wildlife warden MC Malakar.
Wildlife officials are holding an emergency meeting on next Monday at the famed Kaziranga National Park in eastern Assam to devise new strategies to reduce the human-elephant conflict.
"A number of elephant experts, representatives of captive elephant owners, and community heads of villages affected by elephant depredation will meet to work out fresh ideas and plans to check the menace," Malakar said.
A report by the wildlife department said wild Asiatic elephants have killed 239 people in Assam since 2001, while 265 elephants have died during the period, many of them victims of retaliation by angry humans.
"The high number of casualties in the continuing man-elephant conflict in Assam is a matter of serious concern with pachyderm herds now reportedly straying out of their habitats to human settlement areas looking for fodder," Malakar said.
Some 17 people have been trampled to death by elephant herds in separate incidents this year, while 18 elephants were killed by irate villagers, the report said.
A pair of wild elephants last weekend damaged a portion of an Indian Air Force base in northern Assam's Sonitpur district.
"The elephants had come down from the jungles looking for food and got themselves in the heart of the city," police official A Bora said.
During the past two months, herds of wild elephants have been wreaking havoc in several parts of Assam with the pachyderms fancying the paint-peeling moonshine that many of the villagers brew from fermented rice.
Experts say wild elephants have been moving out of the jungles with people encroaching upon animal corridors leading to an increasing number of elephant attacks on villages.
"A shrinking forest cover and encroachment of elephant corridors have forced the pachyderms to stray out of their habitats into human settlement areas," said Kushal Konwae Sharma, a noted elephant expert and teacher at the College of Veterinary Science in Assam.
Satellite imagery shows that between 1996 and 2000, villagers encroached on about 280,000 hectares of thick forests in Assam. Villagers in the past drove away marauding herds by beating drums or bursting firecrackers. Now they poison the animals.
"We have found that some elephants were brought down with poisoned-tipped arrows," the wildlife warden said.
The last elephant census carried out by wildlife authorities in 1999 recorded 5,400 elephants in Assam, more than half of India's count of 10,000.