Siliguri, July 25: A two-year-old elephant calf, straggling behind its herd, was run over by an express train this afternoon on the railway tracks running through Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary.
Foresters said the accident spot, located close to Gulma station, around 20km from here, is a known elephant-crossing zone, identified by boards put up near the tracks. Engine drivers are supposed to reduce speed on these stretches.
The calf’s death is the latest in a spate of incidents in which wild animals have lost their lives in the hands of humans (See chart).
Today’s accident took place just after 4.10pm. The 5641Up Jhajha Express bound for Guwahati had sped through Gulma station on the fringes of the forest a couple of minutes before that.
“The driver informed us soon after the accident,” said Arjun Rakshit, the Alipurduar divisional railway manager of the Northeast Frontier Railway. “He said he had applied the emergency brakes, but could not save the calf.”
Sumita Ghatak, the divisional forest officer (Wildlife-1), said officials from her department had been to the spot. “A post-mortem will be conducted tomorrow to ascertain the cause of death,” she said.
Forest sources said the calf had probably fallen behind its herd. The other elephants are still guarding the carcass lying beside the tracks, the sources added.
Senior forest officials have put the blame squarely on the railways. “It was daylight and the area is an identified elephant-crossing zone where drivers ought to be extra alert,” Atanu Raha, the principal chief conservator of forests of Bengal, told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta this evening. “We will take up the issue with the railways soon.”
The calf is the eighth wild elephant to die on the tracks since it was converted to broad gauge two-and-a-half years ago. Speeding trains have also run over two gaurs during this period.
The body of a Royal Bengal Tiger was found near a different stretch of the tracks recently, though it could not be established whether it was killed by poachers or a train.
Trains like the Delhi-bound Mahananda Link Express, Sealdah-bound Kanchankanya Express and Alipurduar-bound Intercity Express ran late today as a result of the accident.