The only female rhino of Valmiki Tiger Reserve was run over by a goods train between Valmikinagar Road and Paniahwa stations of East Central Railway on Monday evening, dashing forest officials’ hope of having a full-fledged family of the protected species.
The Schedule I animal was hit by the train — travelling at a speed of around 50km per hour — in the Madanpur range of Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR), around 290km northwest of Patna. Though there is no speed limit for trains in the 6km-stretch of railway tracks passing through the range in the division II of the VTR, the reserve officials detained the goods train driver, Arjun Prasad, and assistant driver Ram Kumar Singh. They were released later on personal bond of Bagaha railway station superintendent Jai Kumar.
The VTR’s division II divisional forest officer (DFO) Nand Kishor told The Telegraph over phone from Madanpur: “The accident occurred around 7.30pm on Monday. The drivers claimed that they slammed brakes but could not save the animal.” They had been charged with committing a crime equivalent to hunting.
Animals in the Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act are supposed to get absolute protection. According to the provisions of the act, hunting of a Schedule I animal attracts a minimum of three years of imprisonment.
The death of the only female rhino of the reserve served a jolt to the VTR officials’ wish to have a full-fledged family of the protected animal in the reserve. The VTR’s tryst with rhinos began in 2001-02 when three animals — two females and a male — strayed into it from Nepal. One of the females gave birth to a male rhino immediately after coming to the VTR. But one of the female rhinos died in a train accident on April 1, 2007. Their count came down to two when a male rhino fell into the Gandak canal and died in 2008. Two years ago, a male cub was born. “The death of the only female rhino has dashed all hopes of addition to their numbers,” said VTR field director Santosh Tiwari, adding that railways had agreed to make an underpass near Madanpur Devi temple for safe passage of animals between the northern and the southern portions of the Madanpur range, separated by tracks.
Dr A.K. Singh of Wildlife Trust of India, who is working on train-hit mitigation project, said: “Fencing along the railway tracks with limited opening to give passage to wild animals and underpasses could be of great help on this front.”