One more wild elephant was found dead in the forest of Surguja division in Chhattisgarh on Thursday, taking their death toll to three in as many days, forest officials said.
The latest fatality was reported from Rajpur forest range of Balrampur district, while two elephants, one of them a pregnant female, were found dead on June 9 and 10 in adjoining Pratappur forest range of Surajpur district, they said.
"All the three dead jumbos were females and probably belonged to the same herd. The cause of their deaths also seems to be the same," Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Arun Kumar Pandey said.
"The post-mortem of the carcass of the third elephant is being done. However, prima facie the post-mortem reports of the first two pachyderms and symptoms of the third one suggest that these deaths are not natural and they died of toxicity," he said.
"As per the preliminary information, this herd of pachyderms recently moved towards Pratappur forest from Rajpur, during which they rampaged some mud houses in a village. They might have overeaten mahua flowers or consumed urea (fertilizer) stocked by villagers in their houses that
led to toxicity," he said.
However, the exact cause of their deaths was yet to be ascertained, Pandey said.
Divisional Forest Officer (Balrampur division) Pranay Mishra said that after getting information from locals about the carcass, the forest personnel rushed to the spot. "No injury mark was found on the carcass of the elephant, which seems to have died two-three days ago. The exact reason of the death will be known once we get the post-mortem report," he said.
Mishra said the tusker belonged to a herd of 18 elephants that ransacked some mud houses in Karwa village before moving towards Pratappur on June 6-7. The forest personnel have launched a probe in then villages, from where the herd had crossed, to trace what they had consumed, he added.
Meanwhile, forest officials have also collected samples from water bodies in the area to check if it was poisoned.
On Wednesday, the officials had said that the pregnant elephant who was found dead on Tuesday had a cyst in her liver and some problem in the spleen that might have led to her death.
Meanwhile, a Bilaspur-based wildlife activist demanded a high-level inquiry into the deaths as he suspected "foul play".
"In November last year, eight people were arrested for killing a wild elephant and removing its tusks in Balrampur. Therefore, foul play cannot be ruled out in the deaths of the three elephants," Mansoor Khan said.
A high-level inquiry should be constituted to probe the incident so that truth will come out, he added. Notably, the thickly-forested northern Chhattisgarh, comprising Surguja, Korba, Raigarh, Jashpur and Koriya districts, are notorious for incidents of human-elephant conflict.
The region has witnessed killings of several people and damages to houses and crops by rogue elephants in the last few years.