Train brake saves over 140 elephants in Bengal, Assam

A wild elephant crossing a railway track in Assam recently. (photo credit: Northeast Frontier Railways)

Sensitised train drivers have saved over 140 elephants from train hits this year so far in Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) zone, mainly in North Bengal and Western Assam.

Chief public relations officer of NFR, Subhanan Chanda on Wednesday said saving the elephant was becoming tough as the jumbos were increasingly crossing railway tracks through areas, which are not notified as elephant corridors. There are 64 elephant corridors notified by forest departments under five divisions - Katihar in Bihar (1),  Alipurduar in North Bengal (22) and Assam's Rangiya (23), Lumding (16) and Tinsukia (5).

"As railway drivers have been instructed to run the trains with controlled speed through notified elephant corridor areas, the case of elephant hit has come down drastically. But it is very difficult to control a train when drivers suddenly notices elephants on railway tracks in areas which are not notified as elephant corridors," he said.

Since 2013, at least 70 elephants died in train hits in Assam while they were crossing the tracks under the NFR, which covers north Bengal, parts of eastern Bihar and the Northeast. The NFR was having tough time to tackle the problem, mainly in Assam, as there are 29 elephant corridors and the tracks passing through forests.

According to a forum of wildlife conservationist groups, at least 80 elephants die every year in human-elephant conflicts in the country with 655 deaths reported between 2009 and 2017, including 120 by trains.

Chanda said alert railway staffs had saved 165 wild elephants from train hits under NFR last year. "The incidents of elephants crossing railway track is more common in Alipurduar division and to some extent in Lumding and Rangiya division of NFR. In Alipurduar division itself there were 115 cases when elephants were saved during 2018 by controlling the train as and when the driver noticed movement of elephant herd near or over railway tracks. Similarly, 119 elephants could be saved in 2017, 145 in 2016 and 118 in 2016," he said.

He said NFR reported at least 122 incidents this year so far where drivers had to stop trains to give path to herd of elephants crossing tracks. 

"The NFR has taken various initiatives to avoid train-elephant hit. Some of them are like installation of laser speed radar gun to detect over speeding cases in elephant zones. All train drivers have been counselled to observe all permanent and temporary speed restrictions, fixing of buzzer with honey bee sound at level crossing gates of vulnerable locations. Staffs of pantry car as well as train passengers are being sensitized not to throw any eatables/leftovers on or near the railway tracks, which might attract the jumbos to the tracks," Chanda said.

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