"A preliminary report suggests the deaths could be due to lightning although we need to find out through forensic tests if there could be any other reason like poisoning or disease," an official said

By Maria Pasquini
May 14, 2021 05:53 PM
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Asiatic Elephant
Asiatic Elephant
| Credit: Getty

Officials are looking into the circumstances surrounding the recent death of a herd of 18 Asiatic elephants. 

On Thursday, the bodies of 14 elephants were found on top of a hill in the Kondali forest reserve — located in the northeastern Indian state of Assam — wildlife official Jayanta Goswami said, according to the Associated Press. An additional four dead elephants were found at the bottom of the hill.

The herd included five calves, the news agency reported. 

Local officials believe that the animals may have been killed by lightning, although an investigation will be held to determine their exact cause of death, according to Reuters.

"A preliminary report suggests the deaths could be due to lightning, although we need to find out through forensic tests if there could be any other reason like poisoning or disease," Assam's forest and wildlife minister Parimal Suklabaidya said on Friday.

In a statement shared on social media Thursday, Suklabaidya said that he was "deeply pained by the death of 18 elephants." 

The following day, he shared that the investigation would be handled by a group of veterinarians and an AFS Officer.  

"The preliminary report of inquiry has been asked to be submitted within 3 days & a detailed investigation report within 15 days," he wrote. "We will unravel the exact reason behind their tragic death soon."

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According to the Associated Press, an estimated 6,000 or more wild Asiatic elephants live in Assam. The species is currently classified as endangered, per the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. Although the exact population of the species is unknown — with estimations ranging from between 40,000 to 50,000 — over half of the remaining Asiatic elephants in the wild can be found in India.