"This freak natural incident is also being corroborated by meteorological reports", the release said. A final report would be released only after all the examinations have been completed, it said.
The incident happened on Wednesday night at a hill in the Kundoli proposed reserve forest in the Kathiatoli range.
It was found that carcasses were lying in two groups. Fourteen adult elephants were found atop the hill, and another four bodies were found scattered on the foothills on Thursday. Detailed examination of the carcasses was carried out while viscera and other samples were collected for forensic investigations. Veterinary experts from the College of Veterinary Science here, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department, District Veterinary Officer, doctors from the Assam State Zoo, and other wildlife organisations were engaged in conducting post-mortem examinations and collection of samples.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had expressed concern over the incident and asked Environment and Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya to visit the spot to inquire into the matter. Suklabaidya on Friday ordered an inquiry into the matter and a committee, headed by Deputy Conservator of Forest K K Deori, was instituted. The committee was directed to submit a preliminary report within three days and a detailed investigation report within 15 days. The minister, accompanied by senior officials of the department, a team of veterinarians, and wildlife experts, had visited the spot on Friday to take stock of the situation.
After assessing the situation with top forest officials, Suklabaidya had also said that preliminary investigation revealed that the pachyderms have died probably due to lightning as there were no visible signs of struggle. The Forest Range Officer of Kathiatoli Range of Nagaon Forest division had received information on Thursday from the Assistant Manager of Topajuri Tea Estate about four elephant carcasses. A team of forest officials along with local villagers began a search of the Konduli Reserve forest and during the operation, four carcasses were found on the Bamuni foothill, while 14 elephants were found dead, around one kilometre away, the release added.