Graphic Image Inc.:Odisha Signs MoU With Wildlife Trust Of India To Save Elephants From Being Hit By Trains

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“Please Note Graphic Image: furthest down page! Two items of related news: the first  shows yet another image of an elephant killed  by speeding train, in March  2013. In that article India’s Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal stressed the need to protect the elephants from trains…the current news below is a step in the right direction!”

BHUBANESWAR: In a bid to check growing number of cases of elephants being fatally hit by trains, Odisha government today signed an MoU with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to develop a mitigation plan. 

The New Delhi-based WTI would identify and map the critical accident prone sites and habitats of elephants and also identify factors – ecological, physical and man-made- responsible for accidental deaths of elephants.

“WTI will prepare a detailed report on mitigation plan and implement the Rs 9.9 lakh project over a period of 12 months,” said Forest and Environment minister Bijayshree Routray after signing the MoU.

Last year, the state has witnessed death of about 13 elephants due to train hits. While seven jumbos were killed due to train accidents in Keonjhar, four in Berhampur of Ganjam district and two in Dhenkanal district.

The state government had held several meetings with the Indian Railway authorities and the Ministry of Environment and Forest(MoEF) on the issue. However, there had been no such improvement in the situation.

WTI will simultaneously organise consultations/ meetings/workshops with the staff of forest department and other stake holders departments and finalise mitigation plan and jointly implement a few identified shot term mitigation plan like signage along the railway track and awareness of train drivers, the minister said.

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 “Please Note Graphic Image Below”

March 2013 –  Giant elephant killed by speeding train INSIDE nature reserve as it tries to cross track in remote northeast India

This tragic photo shows the body of a tusker elephant who died today when he was hit by a speeding train in West Bengal.

The adult elephant was struck by a train in a forest at the Buxa Tiger Reserve, a few miles from Alipurduar in north east India.

A speeding passenger train, the Guwahati-bound Somporkkranti Express, hit the elephant while he was crossing the railway line. He died instantly.

The tiger reserve where the elephant was killed is inside the Buxa National Park, which runs along India’s boundary with Bhutan.

This means that the tiger reserve serves as international corridor for elephants migrating between India and Bhutan, making a it a danger spot for train drivers.

Indian forest guards now have the difficult task of getting the huge animal off the tracks so that the train line can reopen.

Sadly this fatal collision was not an isolated incident.

As recently as December last year, five elephants were killed after they were hit by a passenger train in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.

They were crossing railway tracks with their herd.

At the moment there are around 26,000 wild elephants in India.

Although elephants are worshipped by many Indians, their shrinking habitat has made them increasingly unsafe, especially when travelling cross country.

The state of Orissa in eastern India last year issued a warning, asking trains to slow down because of moving elephants herd, but they say it was ignored.

The main reasons for elephant deaths are poaching, eating crops poisoned by farmers, and being hit by trains.

Last week, India’s Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal stressed the need to protect the elephants from trains, describing the animals as ‘gentle giants’  whose lives must be safeguarded.

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Yet More Elephant Deaths: Speeding Drivers Derail Jumbo Safety

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“I don’t believe this, I’ve just done a post for elephants killed on rail tracks, then I find this one! Obviously this is an urgent matter which must be addressed asap; before any more are killed. I still think prosecuting the train drivers who kill or injure elephants by going too fast… would make them slow down! (Note this says it was 6 elephants killed, where as the previous post said it was 5, unless they are counting the pregnant female as one?!””

The spree of killing of the national heritage animal, elephants, on railway tracks continues unabated. A week ago, six jumbos were mowed down by a speeding train in Odisha and four others met a similar fate in West Bengal’s Buxa Tiger Reserve on Saturday night. The respective forest departments and the railways have now indulged in blame game.

The Director of Project Elephant, Environment Ministry, AM Singh, has claimed that the accidents took place as in both the cases the trains were moving at a high speed. The drivers obviously took no note of the signs along the tracks stating that it was an elephant crossing zone.

At a recent visit to Odisha, Singh gave four major suggestions to the local forest and railway officials.

These included:-

  1. lowering of speed,
  2. clearing all vegetation around at least 30 metres of area on either side of the track,
  3. installation of high beam lights near the signs for better visibility
  4.  mandatory hooting by trains crossing a vulnerable stretch.

While four elephants were killed and two calves seriously injured by the speeding Gauhatibound Jhaja Express in the Buxa Tiger Reserve on Saturday night, six elephants were mowed down by the Super-fast Coromandel Express in Odisha’s Ganjam district last week.

“In both the cases, the trains were passing at a speed of about 110-120 km/hour,” said Singh. Talking to The Pioneer, he pointed out that when signs had been put along the track, there was no justification for drivers to cross the prescribed 50 kmph limit.

He further pointed out that the vulnerable tracks across the 1,800-km stretch of Chennai-Howrah route is less than 10 km in length, and lowering the speed of the train can delay the train maximum by eight minutes. “What the hell is 8 minutes of anyone’s time when it comes to the life of an elephant??”

The issue would be taken up at the Railway Ministry level, informed Singh. He regretted that the decisions taken at high-level meetings between the Environment Ministry and the Railway Ministry in September 4, 2009, had not been followed.

SK Mohanty, Divisional Railway Manager of Khurdha Division under East Coast Railway Division, however, claimed that that four of the six points of the advisory have been carried out. These include erecting sign boards, having a sensitisation programme for railway personnel, clearing vegetation on both sides of the railway track. He said that the only thing which was yet to be done was the construction of underpasses.

He alleged that lapses are on the part of the forest department to engage trackers, who could inform the railway control rooms about the presence of elephant herds. The alert was to be for two hours and should relate to a section of two km only.

Chief Wildlife Warden, Odisha, JD Sharma, however, said, “We had informed the railways in advance that elephants might cross the track around midnight. Timely action could have averted the accident.” He also said that it is not practically possible to predict the movements of elephants so much in advance.

While the forest department and the Railways are hurling accusations at each other, experts have questioned the failure of the forest department to regularly track and monitor train movements in such pre-identified sensitive areas.

Biswajit Mohanty, member, National Board For Wildlife, too questioned the wildlife department “on its failure to book cases against the DRM, Khurda Division, for the death of a Schedule I species by a train run under his direct control and supervision.

“By merely booking a prosecution against the driver of Coromandal Superfast Express, the department has not discharged its duty of taking required legal action against the Railways,” he added.

Commenting on the situation, RP Saini, field director, Buxa Tiger Reserve, said, “We will lodge an FIR against the railways, but nothing will come of it.” According to him, if one genuinely wants to save the elephants, movement of trains on this track after sunset has to be stopped with immediate effect.

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