Conservation officials in India say at least 18 wild elephants were killed by lightning during a thunderstorm late Thursday; however, some experts think the animals might have been poisoned in a wildlife preserve in India's northeastern Assam state.
Local residents alerted forest department officials after finding the elephant carcasses in the protected Kondali forest reserve in the state's Nagaon district, about 150 kilometers east of the state's largest city, Guwahati. Some local rangers reported burned trees in the area, which might have contributed to the reasoning the elephants were killed by lightning.
Wildlife experts were in the Kondali reserve Friday examining the scene. Assam Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya said he had never seen a similar incident in the region.
The carcasses were being sent for a postmortem and forensic tests to determine the cause of death. He said a full investigation is underway.
Prominent conservationist Soumyadeep Datta, with the environmental activist group Nature's Beckon, told the French news agency he thought it unlikely the elephants were killed by lightning based on social media images he saw. He said it was more likely the elephants were poisoned.
India is home to about 27,000 Asian elephants, more than 50 percent of the world's population. Assam state is said to have about 6,000 of them. They are considered endangered due to habitat loss, poaching for their tusks, and erratic enforcement of forestry laws.