Sri Lankan authorities began an investigation Sunday after seven elephants were found dead.
Wildlife authorities found four elephants dead Friday and another three Saturday at the Habarana Hiriwadunna Forest Reserve, according to the BBC. One of the elephants was reported to be a pregnant female.
“Since Friday, we have found the remains of seven cow elephants, including a tusker,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told AFP.
After starting post-mortem examinations on the weekend, a veterinarian in Sri Lanka’s wildlife department said that it seemed several of the elephants had died of poisoning. Authorities are looking into whether the usual diet of the elephants — jungle leaves — had any toxins in the food themselves.
Officials have previously said that they suspected the elephants were poisoned by villagers, in retaliation for destroying their crops.
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The recent expansion of farms and villages has made the elephant population come into frequent conflict with rural communities. Police say that there have been several incidents of wild elephants destroying village crops in the area, according to AFP.
Under Sri Lankan law, the killing of wild elephants is illegal and punishable by death.
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry forced dozens of elephants into captivity. Many others are made to march in festivals and celebrations.
A 70-year-old Asian elephant named Tikiri was pulled from a parade last month after images of the animal — showing it starved and emaciated — sparked outrage after circulating online.
The most recent census data on Sri Lanka’s elephant numbers at just under 6,000 were still left in the country. A more recent elephant survey was announced last August and was scheduled to take place in September.
– With files from Reuters