Train hits elephant herd, Three killed

Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Coimbatore, India
A herd of Asian elephants comprising three individuals (one adult pregnant female, an adult male around 30 years and a juvenile male around six years) were hit and killed by a train on the Coimbatore- Palakkad railway line near Madukkarai Railway Station in Coimbatore District in the early hours of Monday morning in India. The train had no passengers.
The badly mutilated body of the female elephant was found at the site along with an aborted male foetus, suggesting that she was the first to be hit while leading the herd. According to B Ramakrishnan, Field Officer with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), the international partner of IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org), the herd had been leaving the forest reserve and crossing the railway tracks in order to reach human habitation and crop  fields.  The Forest Department had been, for the past few days, trying to drive back the same herd from  the nearby villages to the reserve forest.
 
According to Dr Sandeep Tiwari, Manager Programmes at WTI, there have been 118 elephant deaths in India due to train hits since 1987.  A  programme of the Uttaranchal Forest Department and the Northern Railways in collaboration with the WTI/IFAW has been able to halt train accident deaths of elephants in Rajaji National Park. A similar project will be taken up soon in Assam where the problem is acute.
 
There are old railway lines often more than 100 years old, which cannot be shifted outside protected areas. For instance, no alternative alignment will work for the railway line from Haridwar to Dehradun. However, WTI/IFAW believe that train accident deaths of elephants can be minimised if not halted if the steps taken at Rajaji are adapted to suit other locations.
 
There is however no justification for building new railway lines in protected areas, in particular elephant bearing areas. In 2006, South-Western Railways was denied permission to construct a broad gauge railway line from Chamrajnagar, Karnataka to Mettupalayam, Coimbatore by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) taking into consideration that the area is an important corridor for elephants. This proposed railway line was to run through the Nilgiris Eastern Ghat Elephant Reserve, part of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve and the proposed Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary.
 
Asian elephant populations have diminished over the years and there are currently approximately 35,000 existing in the wild, with less than 300 remaining in China. Habitat loss, human encroachment and a booming trade in elephant ivory are the main causes for this decline and the continued endangerment.

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