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Reports of elephant meat consumption in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have raised the hackles of forest officials and wildlife activists.
On May 1, the mutilated carcass of a wild elephant was discovered at Ahutoli village in the eastern state’s Nagaon district. This is about 130 km from capital Guwahati. While the tusks being missing is a usual sight, villagers were surprised to see the whole 7-foot bloodied trunk hacked off and lying some distance away.
Local folklore in the Karbi Anglong Hills, where the incident occurred, said the “trunk is the tastiest part of the jumbo’s body.” Some members of the residing tribal communities here, including Karbi, Garo, Dimasa, Adivasis, are known to indulge in this wild meat.
ELEPHANT BODIES FOUND SANS SNOUT
Several cases have also come to the fore where elephant bodies have been found sans the snout, tail and even “stripped of all flesh and reduced to bones”. While revered as a religious and cultural icon in India, elephants are hounded and killed for ivory and also when they wander into human settlements, damaging crops and homes.
Senior wildlife officers refused to confirm that the May 1 Nagaon incident points to “meat consumption,” but other experts expressed fears that the “newly acquired taste” could lead to a spurt in elephant poaching.
India only has about 30,000 tuskers left in its forests and reserves, and the huge animal enjoys the highest Schedule 1 species status under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972 besides declared endangered by global body, IUCN.
TASTE DEVELOPED FOR JUMBO MEAT
Rituraj Phukan of the Nagaon-based Green Guards Organisation told Mail Today, “While historically, jumbo flesh isn’t eaten by tribes of Karbi Hills, we were surprised by the May 1 incident and similar ones in the past 10 years.
Our local intelligence told us that when the tribals come down to the plains for weekly bazaar sales and purchases they sell the jumbo meat by various names and have developed a taste for it.” Mubina Akhtar, a former member of the powerful Assam Wildlife Board, added, “The Karbi Anglong hills are a part of the Kaziranga Elephant Reserve.
It’s also a conflicted area with secessionist groups and armed bandits frequenting it. While we can’t assure that elephants are being killed only for meat as it could be unviable, it is very much possible that there is a nexus between poachers who are looking for tusks worth crores and the locals who can get cheap meat for a kill.”
JUMBO KILLED ONLY FOR ITS MEAT?
The trunk is apparently the tastiest part to eat, said Dr Zahan Ahmed, veterinarian with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). “During my five years as a wildlife vet in Assam, I have encountered several cases of elephant death with the trunk cut at the middle and the base,” he said. Elephant meat, however, is a well-known delicacy in some Southeast Asian countries and African nations like Cameroon and Congo.
“I have heard of specific cases in Arunachal, where the jumbo has been killed just for its meat,” Rituraj added.
Assam has a population of 5,000-6,000 elephants, though 300 have been lost in the last 10 years.
Jayanta Kumar Das, an Assam-based wildlife conservationist, said, “The saddest part of the story, from what I have heard from locals, is that the jumbo in the Nagaon incident was old and sick. It had come out of the jungle on April 30, probably seeking help. Instead, forest officers drove it back to the jungles and on May 1 it was found killed.”
MORE ABOUT ELEPHANTS IN THE COUNTRY
The Indian elephant is native to India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Laos, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is regionally extinct in Pakistan.
District forest officer of Nagaon Subhashish Das said, “The fact of the matter is that it was lying in a pond. We were arranging for a veterinarian from Kaziranga and a tranquiliser, and we could not keep it in the public till that time. Unfortunately, it was found dead in those circumstances. The postmortem report has found arrow heads lodged in its body. However, we have no proof until now that it was killed for meat.”