Elephant's highway robbery

AN ELEPHANT in eastern India has taken to blocking the road and refusing to allow vehicles to pass unless drivers give it food.

The Hindustan Times said the elephant was scouting for food on a road in the eastern state of Orissa, forcing motorists to roll down their windows and get out of the car.

"The tusker then inserts its trunk inside the vehicle and sniffs for food," said Prabodh Mohanty, a local resident who has come across the elephant twice.

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"If you are carrying vegetables and bananas inside your vehicle, then it will gulp them and allow you to go."

If a commuter does not wind down his window or resists opening the vehicle door, the elephant stands in front of the car until the driver allows him to carry out his routine inspection.

Forestry officials told the newspaper that the elephant is old and is therefore looking for easy food.

"So far, it has not harmed anybody," said Sirish Mohanty, a forest ranger working in the state.

"We are telling commuters regularly not to tease the elephant. But if people don't heed our advice and harass the tusker, then it can retaliate."

Elephants are a protected and endangered species in India, which has nearly half of the world's 60,000 Asian elephants.

But conservationists say the population has fallen rapidly in recent years because of loss of habitat as a result of human encroachment into forest areas.

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