Wildlife officials in southern Nepal are hunting an elephant that has reportedly killed eleven people in the past two weeks — including one who was trying to worship it as an incarnation of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god.
The adult male bull is thought to have crossed the border into Nepal from the tea-growing northeastern Indian state of Assam, and started its killing spree after being attacked and wounded by villagers trying to chase it away.
The rampage is one of the most extreme illustrations of how wild elephants in South Asia are increasingly coming into conflict with humans, as their natural habitat is consumed by farmland and industrial development.
The first killing was reported on November 24, after which the elephant is reported to have trampled to death a further ten people, including at least three women and a seven-year-old child — most of them while they were gathering firewood in the forest. The elephant is also reported to have killed an 18-year-old man who tried to pray to it, and offered it a garland of flowers.
Several others have narrowly escaped, including Lilamaya Bhujel and her four-year-old daughter, Devika, according to one Nepalese newspaper.
It said that Mrs Bhujel fainted at the sight of the beast, which then picked up Devika with its trunk, sniffed her and carefully put her down again unharmed.
Forestry officials said that they were hunting the elephant, and awaiting instructions from the Government. Elephants are protected in Nepal, which has an estimated 120 living in the wild, and they can be shot only with orders from the Forests and Soil Conservation Ministry.
The Government is under increasing pressure to prevent elephant attacks on people after a sharp increase in fatalities in recent years.
This year, it began offering compensation of 150,000 Nepalese rupees (£1,200) to the family of anyone killed by a wild elephant.
However, many wildlife experts say that the money would be better spent teaching villagers not to attack elephants, and compensating them for any crops or property destroyed by the animals.
“We need to educate villagers,” Santosh Nepal, of the WWF, was quoted as saying.
“They tend to irritate the elephants and attack them to make them go away.
“An injured elephant mostly turns rogue, and begins to counter-attack indiscriminately. We have to teach them to let the animals go their own route unhindered.”