On Friday May 14, 2021, Indian authorities began investigating the deaths of at least 18 elephants, which some environmentalists believe have been killed by lightning. The dead herd was found Thursday in the hilly Kandali Forest Reserve in Assam, northeastern India. And Kazakhstan said on the same day that some 350 endangered saiga antelopes were killed, likely by lightning after villagers found their bodies in the western steppe.
What happened in India?
Forestry officials and local MP Jitu Goswami said they believed the elephants were killed when lightning struck the forest. But renowned conservationist Sumyadip Dutta of environmental activist group Nature’s Beckon said that was unlikely based on images on social media. He suggests poisoning. Now the authorities are awaiting the autopsy report.
A group of veterinarians and officials made their way to the site on Friday, May 14, along with Parimal Shuklabaydya, Assam’s Minister of Forests and the Environment. India is home to about 30,000 elephants, which is about 60% of the wild Asian elephant population. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of local residents killing elephants, as more and more people invade the forested areas.
What happened in Kazakhstan?
Found dead animals were found during the calving period of saigas. In a statement, the Kazakh Ministry of Ecology said that the likely cause of their death was lightning, “since there are traces of lightning strikes on the carcasses.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whose Red List is a scientific guide to endangered wildlife, ranks the saiga as one of five endangered antelope species with a population of about 124,000 adults.
Kazakhstan is home to the vast majority of animals, while Kalmykia and Mongolia have much smaller populations.
In 2015, about 200,000 antelopes – more than half of the total population at the time – were wiped out by what scientists later found was a bacterium that spread in unusually warm and humid conditions.
During an aerial survey in 2019, Kazakhstan reported that its saiga population was estimated at more than 330,000 individuals. Poaching is a constant threat fueled by the demand for horn in traditional Chinese medicine. The Kazakh authorities have pledged to end the crime after poachers killed two foresters in 2019 who were fighting poaching.