Lightning strike may have killed 18 wild elephants in India, officials say


GUWAHATI (Reuters) - A herd of eighteen wild Asiatic elephants were found dead in India's eastern state of Assam, possibly because of a massive lightning strike, local officials said on Friday.

Fourteen adult elephants were found dead by villagers on Thursday, and another four bodies were found scattered on the foothills of the Kundoli reserve forest area of Assam, 160 kilometers from the state capital of Dispur, local wildlife official M.K Yadava told Reuters.

The state government ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident on Friday, Assam's forest and wildlife minister Parimal Suklabaidya said.

"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," the minister added.

Locals who found the elephants said the animals could have been killed by a lightning strike late on Wednesday, a local forest ranger said, adding he had seen burnt trees in the area.

The ranger declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

(Reporting by Zarir Hussain in Guwahati, Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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