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 kilometres from the state capital of Dispur, local wildlife official MK 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.