The Chhattisgarh forest department has suspended three officials and a guard over the death of three female elephants in the state, PTI reported on Sunday.

An official told the news agency that the suspension order and the showcause notice was issued on Saturday evening for alleged dereliction of duty. This came a day after Chhattisgarh Forest Minister Mohammad Akbar constituted a panel headed by a retired Indian Forest Service officer to investigate the death of the elephants.

The bodies of the three elephants, including one pregnant one, were found in the jungles of Balrampur and Surajpur district between Tuesday and Thursday. Officials said all three of them belonged to the same herd and were moving towards Pratappur from Rajpur.

According to the order, Sub-Divisional Forest Officer (Rajpur) KS Khutia, Range Forest Officer (Rajpur) Anil Singh, Deputy Ranger (Gopalpur) Rajendra Prasad Tiwari, and Forest Guard Bhupendra Singh have been suspended. “As per reports, the elephant whose carcass was found on June 11 from Rajpur forest range probably died on June 6,” the official added. “These forest staff allegedly failed to inform senior officials about it till June 11. They allegedly indulged in serious negligence in duty.”

Akbar said the autopsy report revealed that one of the elephant died of cardiac arrest, another of toxicity and third one died due to infection.

The forest department has also issued showcause notice to Balrampur district forest officer, seeking his reply within a week about the deaths. “The DFO is expected to take steps to prevent human- elephant conflicts through various means,” the order said. “But in this case, he did not even have the information of the elephant’s death till the carcass got decomposed. This clearly indicates that he has committed gross negligence.”

The incident came days after the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala’s Palakkad city last month. The elephant, estimated to be a 15-year-old, died in the Velliyar stream in Palakkad on May 27. The wound was presumably caused by some explosives put in a fruit that the elephant ate. The fruit laden with explosives was set as a trap by local farmers to ward off wild animals.

The incident has sparked outrage across the country and prompted a criminal investigation into cruelty towards animals. Villagers in Kerala often use firecrackers or explosives stuffed in food to protect their fields from wild animals. The practice had been widely criticised.

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