Elephant habitats shrink in India as encroachments increase

GAUHATI, India — Wildlife activists say human encroachment in the forests of northeast India have forced elephants out of their natural habitats, triggering conflicts with locals.

Conservationists have urged the government to prevent encroachments and free corridors that are used by elephants to move across forests in search of food. In recent years, there have been many incidents where wild elephants have entered villages, destroyed crops and even killed people.

Forest official D.D. Gogoi said Friday that in the latest incident, forest guards had to set fire to wild grass to drive back three wild elephants that came out of the Amchang Reserve forest in Assam state.

Villagers pelted elephants with stones but were chased away by the animals until forests guards came to their rescue.

"It's an alarming situation. The elephants rampage through villages in search of food as their habitats are being overtaken by people," said Mubina Akhtar, a wildlife conservationist. "The government has to order the clearance of the elephant corridors."

According to the 2011 elephant census, there were 5,620 wild elephants in Assam. The state is preparing to hold a fresh elephant census next month, Gogoi said.

Elephants are increasingly coming into contact with people in India, as the human population of 1.3 billion soars and cities and towns grow at the expense of jungles and other elephant habitats.

India's elephants are also threatened by speeding trains and illegal poachers looking for ivory to sell on the black market. Last year, 67 elephants were killed in Assam, after 118 were shot dead the previous year.

Forests guards are also trying to drive away elephants from railway tracks near the Amchang reserve area.

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