The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Midnight train mows down elephants

Guwahati, June 21: A speeding train knocked down three elephants on the outskirts of the Assam capital early today, highlighting the folly of laying a rail track through a known tusker corridor.

The tragedy occurred at Chakradeo, near the famous wetland called Deepor Beel, a little after midnight. It was reminiscent of an incident in 2002, when seven elephants came in the way of a train near Pangeri in Upper Assam.

The broad-gauge track from Kamakhya to New Bongaigaon cuts through an area close to the Rani-Garbhanga forest reserve, home to several herds of elephants. The magnificent beasts often go to Deepor Beel at night in search of food.

Two of the elephants knocked down by the train were calves, and the sight of their motionless bodies lying on the track moved even the most stoic resident of the area. Tearful villagers, who share a love-hate relationship with elephants because roving herds often destroy their crops, heaped flowers on them and lit incense sticks before forest department and police officials reached the spot.

“We chase elephants from our paddy fields, but they do not deserve to die like this. They never harm anybody,” Savitri Devi, a housewife, said.

A forest official said the three elephants were aged 18, four and one-and-a-half years. The youngest among them was the first to be hit by the train. One of the elephants was dragged quite a distance and its legs were severed.

The elephants were in a herd of 10 that was headed for Deepor Beel in torrential rain.

“We came rushing out of our homes on hearing the elephants crying out in anguish. It was a painful sight,” Laxman Terong, a resident of Chakradeo, said.

The villager said such tragedies could occur again if trains did not slow down while passing through the area.

Conservator of forests (central Assam circle) R.D.S. Tanwar said the forest department had already asked Northeast Frontier Railway to advise train drivers to slow down while passing through areas in the vicinity of wildlife habitats.

Guwahati-based NGO Aaranyak, which was the first to raise its voice when a track was laid through the Rani-Garbhanga forest reserve in 1989, said both Northeast Frontier Railway and the state government should take the blame for the accident.

Aaranyak has been using the global positioning system to study elephant corridors around Deepor Beel and the Rani-Garbhanga forest reserve.

Its secretary-general Bibhab Talukdar said: “We warned the railways against going ahead with its plan to lay the track through the forest reserve. The consequence of not listening to our advice is there for all to see.”

Northeast Frontier Railway’s chief public relations officer T. Rabha passed the buck to the forest department. “We can impose speed restrictions only if the forest department specifies the points along the corridor that elephants use frequently.”

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