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Death of an elephant whisperer by train

- Kalia Boro, who ensured safe passage for jumbos en route to Deepor Beel, no more

Borjhar, July 22: The familiar figure of Kalia Boro holding a torch along the rail tracks near Deepor Beel sanctuary every night will no longer gladden the hearts of wildlife enthusiasts. The 60-year-old, who devoted a good part of his life to protecting elephants from speeding trains, died yesterday after being run over by one.

Boro was standing on the tracks to ensure the safe passage of a 20-member herd to Deepor Beel when a goods train hit him at Chakardo Mikirpara around 2am yesterday.

Boro was a casual worker of the Guwahati wildlife division since 2010.

Lakhindar Teron, 45, a resident of the area, who was with Boro at the time of the mishap, said, “Kalia was on the hillside trying to help a herd cross the busy surface road when the incident took place.”

Twelve elephants have died after being hit by trains along the 4km stretch of the railway track near Deepor Beel since 2001.

Elephants come to the wetland from nearby Rani and Garbhanga reserve forests in east Kamrup forest division to search for food. Before entering the wetlands, the herds have to cross a busy road before crossing the Kamakhya-Jogighopa railway track.

According to sources in the wildlife division, Boro was well versed in the behaviour of elephants.

His house is located beside an elephant corridor from which he had kept a close watch on the movement of the gentle giants.

“Practical experience helped him to be a master on animal behaviour,” said D.D. Gogoi, divisional forest officer of Guwahati wildlife division.

Gogoi termed Boro’s death a big loss to the forest department.

“From ensuring a safe journey (for the jumbos) to the wetlands and back to their territory, he did everything effectively,” Gogoi told this correspondent.

The forest officer has entrusted an assistant conservator of forest with the responsibility of conducting an inquiry into Boro’s death.

Grief-stricken villagers said it was Boro’s mission to safeguard the elephants.

“He saved the lives of more than 200 elephants before making a supreme sacrifice,” a villager said.

Many still recall how Kalia had performed the job with precision wielding a torch. In a way, he had also helped protect paddy fields from wild elephants.

“Now, our paddy fields will be at the mercy of marauding herds,” said B. Rongpi, a resident.

Recalling his four-month association with Kalia, Paul Keil, 35, a PhD candidate from the department of anthropology, Macquarie University, Sydney, said, “Kalia was amazing, a great friend of elephants, whose intimacy with nature helped him acquire tremendous knowledge on the mammal. We roamed about 3km inside Rani reserve forest on July 12.”

Sangrami Krishak Shramik Sangha, a social organisation of the area, has demanded Rs 10 lakh as compensation from the government to the family of the deceased.