In a tragic incident, five wild elephants were killed in the early hours of Sunday after a train hit their herd at a tea garden in Sonitpur district. One of them was a pregnant female, whose dead calf was extracted later.
The incident took place at Bamgaon Tea Estate in the Chariduar police station area near Balipara at 1.30am, forest officials said. The herd was trying to cross railway tracks when the Guwahati-Naharlagun Intercity Express hit them, chief conservator of forest (northern range) P Shiv Kumar said.
Four female elephants, including a pregnant one, and a male jumbo were killed on the spot, he said. The premature unborn calf came out from its mother’s belly due to the massive impact, Kumar said. He said the forest officials were trying to locate two other elephants, which were part of the herd, adding that the dead elephants were cremated after post-mortem examination.
Wild elephants often come out of the nearby Nameri National Park in search of food, he said. In the last couple of days, a herd of around 70 elephants strayed into the area, near the accident site, informed a forest official.
The Assam Environmental NGOs Forum expressed profound grief and categorically condemned the incident. It lamented the lack of foresightedness while planning development activities. Dr Bibhab Talukdar of NGO Aaranyak called it a shame “for a state like Assam where 40 elephants have died unnaturally in the last 100 days.”
Another wildlife activist, Pranoy Bordoloi, said that the construction of railway tracks across known animal corridors has resulted in the death of at least 225 elephants by trains hits since 2006. Former honourary wildlife warden of Kaziranga National Park, Jayanta Kumar Das, said that handing over forest lands for development of a private park nearby was a recipe for disaster and led to such tragic incidents.
He demanded immediate intervention of the Assam government as such incidents create a bad name for the State. Rituraj Phukan of Green Guard Nature Organization requested the Assam Forest Department and the North Frontier Railways to light up the tracks like highways and install warning systems and enforce speed limits immediately.
The rising cases of human-animal conflict in Assam have been a cause of concern for conservation and wildlife bodies. Due to large scale deforestation for the construction of villages, elephants have lost their natural habitats that had remained untouched till recently.
The elephant is a Schedule I species, accorded the highest protection by India’s Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972. The ‘Asian elephants of Assam’ have been declared ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to the elephant census, there were 5,620 in India in 2011.