Saturday, September 25, 2010

Need to scale up Elephant protection campaign

Need to scale up Elephant protection campaign
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The shocking news of seven elephants being killed, by a speeding goods train while they were crossing the railway tracks near Binnaguri in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal on Thursday, September 23, 2010, has unnerved the wildlife watchers in the country.

What actually happened was a herd of elephants was crossing the railway tracks while going from one forest to another, when two baby elephants were trapped on the tracks. When other elephants came to the rescue of the baby elephants, a goods train that was passing through at that time, hit them, killing five elephants on the spot and injuring three, two others succumbed to their injuries later.

The accident site in Jalpaiguri is a designated jumbo corridor where railway drivers are required to provide safe crossing to the elephants. Railway officials have been requested a number of times to restrict the speed limit of trains plying in the area to 40-km/hr for the safety of the elephants.

However, speeding trains often hit elephants in the area as the railway line crosses the elephant corridor. Some three months ago, a speeding train ran over an elephant and killed it near the same spot. So far, negligent train drivers have killed 150 elephants in the country since 1987.

Elephants are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. They never abandon their injured and dead. In the latest tragedy, the whole herd was killed as they tried to save two calves injured on the track. This incident could have been avoided, if the train driver had applied its presence of mind. Elephant paths are well known to the railway drivers, the jumbos always cross the track by night, and they can be spotted from a distance if the trains are moving at the right speed.

The Environment Ministry has expressed outrage over this tragedy. It was about to declare elephants our national heritage animal and announce the creation of a National Conservation Authority to ensure their protection.

The elephant task force has already devised simple measures to protect them from being hit by the trains. This is by making drivers accountable for their actions, place speed governors on trains in sensitive areas, enforce patrolling along the tracks, stop the movement of good trains at night in elephant corridors and enforce strict safety measures in the 88 elephant’s corridors. A theses measure has to be implemented in its letter and spirit.

Elephants are a revered animal in our country throughout history. However, they are now under siege from poachers and such negligent acts of some train drivers. These wanton killings of the elephants are telling on their population. India's wild elephant population was recently estimated at about 26,000.

There is urgent need to have concrete measures to protect these animals. The onus is on the civil society to raise their voices that there is no such brutal slaughter of elephant’s taking place in the country. If we do not wake up now, perhaps it may be too late.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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