Target: Indian officials
Goal: Reduce train speed in densely elephant populated areas to protect elephants
A passenger train in northeast India recently drove into a herd of elephants as they crossed a set of train tracks, killing five and injuring many others. Their bodies were mutilated to the point that officials originally miscounted the death toll, counting seven dead because of the many body parts strewn across the tracks. The train was travelling at 50mph (80kph) through the Chapramari forest when it struck the herd of 40 elephants crossing the tracks on Wednesday at dusk,West Bengal’s forestry minister Hitan Burman said.
The surviving members of the herd returned to the scene for a while.
“The herd scattered, but returned to the railway tracks and stood there for quite some time before they were driven away by forest guards and railroad workers who rushed to the spot after the accident,” said Burman.
The train crosses through an “elephant corridor” in India’s Jalpaiguri district. Twelve trains run through the corridor, and collisions are frequent. The latest accident brought 2013’s death toll to 17 elephants, Bidyut Sarkar, a divisional forest officer in Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal State, said.
Many elephants needed immediate veterinary care. One female elephant who broke her leg in the collision fell into a ravine below the tracks, which was unreachable by cranes or trucks. Veterinarians set up a camp near her to provide treatment. Deepak Sharma, one of four doctors now camping near the injured elephant, said that the others died of internal hemorrhaging and “complete mutilation.” One body was trapped between a bridge and the railroad track and had to be cut into pieces to be removed.
Railroad tracks cross thousands of miles inhabited by elephants. Activists and wildlife officials, in hopes of reducing horrific incidents like these collisions, met repeatedly with transportation officials. Dipankar Ghosh of the World Wildlife Fund said that environmental groups urged slowing trains in such areas to 25 miles per hour between 4 p.m. and 5 a.m., when elephants are likely to be crossing tracks. Mr. Ghosh said officials refused to do so, saying it would hamper economic development.
“It is an irony that elephants are being killed by speeding trains in north Bengal on regular intervals, even though it has been declared as the heritage animal in India and an elephant calf is the mascot of Indian Railways,” said Animesh Basu, a wildlife activist and co-ordinator of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.
Indian officials need to see that elephants being killed by unrestricted trains is a real problem in India. For people who supposedly care about elephants, since they are their country’s “heritage animal,” officials are very callous about the murder and mutilation of so many animals from an accident easily prevented. Tell Indian officials to reduce train speeds to protect elephants.