Elephants unearth human graves in eastern India, upsetting villagers

Elephants have unearthed at least seven fresh human graves in eastern India, upsetting the nearby Muslim community and puzzling forestry officials.

"This is a very disturbing phenomenon," P.K. Biswas, the top forestry official of Bankura District in West Bengal state, said Thursday.

An elephant herd passed through a cluster of villages in the Bishnupur area last week, foraging for ripe fruit - and unearthing as many as seven recently dug graves, said Niranjan Ghosh, a forestry officer who visited the site.

Forestry officials weren't sure how to explain the disturbed graves. Elephants have only rarely been reported exhibiting such behavior.

The elephants may have been attracted to the smell of rose water and incense over the graves or they may have been drawn to their loose dirt, which they like to spread over their bodies to cool off, Biswas said.

The villagers, most of whom are Muslim, have demanded the government better protect the graves and keep the elephants away.

Biswas said he planned to meet with community leaders to suggest that the graves be dug deeper.

"Normally, the people here dig 3 1/2-foot-deep graves (0.9 meters). We will be suggesting to make it at least 7-foot- (2-meter-) deep graves," Biswas said.

"Since this matter is sensitive, we are careful not to hurt the religious sentiments of the people," he said.

India's northeast is believed to have the world's largest concentration of wild Asiatic elephants, but conflicts between humans and elephants have escalated in recent years as more of the elephants' natural habitat has been destroyed, forcing them to forage for food in populated areas.