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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Train Kills Another 5 Elephants In East India

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“WTF…these trains shouldn’t go through or any where near where elephants roam; but they do, so I guess they are there to stay. So they should follow the guidelines & go  slow, when they know they are approaching an area where elephants may cross…there are sign posts where elephants are likely to cross, plus they are big enough to spot!.”

“The Wildlife Trust of India has identified at least 19 spots where railway tracks passes through elephant habitats. These spots have been declared sensitive; so why are elephants still being killed…well it can only be that drivers are going to fast to be able to stop in time…we can’t afford to lose 1 elephant never mind 5 in this ever decreasing population. As if they don’t have enough to deal with, with local villagers chasing them away…humans have encroached on their habitat & taken their food supply away, what do they expect??”

“According to Elephant Task Force (ETF), Assam tops with a 36 per cent of elephant casualties due to train-hits since 1987, followed by West Bengal with 26 per cent and Uttarakhand with 14 per cent. Elephants  corridors have been made for their safe passage over tracks & also to avoid human contact; trains are required to provide safe crossing to the elephants, but it’s obviously not working…Perhaps it’s time to prosecute the train drivers, for killing elephants…I’m sure that would make them slow down!!”

Bhubaneshwar, India–A speeding passenger train killed five elephants when it ploughed into a herd crossing the track in eastern India, a railway spokesman said Monday.

Onlookers gather around an elephant that was killed by a passenger train in the Rambha forest area, about 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of Bhubaneshwar, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Orissa, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. A passenger train has plowed into and killed five elephants of a herd crossing railroad tracks in eastern India. Dozens of elephants have died in India in recent years after being struck while crossing railroad tracks that often run through national parks and forests. AP

The train struck the animals on Sunday near the Khallikote forest range in Orissa state’s Ganjam district, some 120 kilometres (74 miles) south of the state capital Bhubaneshwar.

“The local forest department had alerted the railway control room about the possibility of the movements of the animals but by the time we got the message the accident had already occurred,” spokesman R. N. Mohapatra told AFP.

The train was badly damaged and it took rail road workers several hours to clear the tracks. “Nothing compared to the poor elephants…something has to be done to slow the trains down when approaching area’s where elephants cross…before more are killed!”

A local forest officer said one of the animals that was killed was a 45-year-old pregnant mother. “Something has to be done about these speeding trains, how many more elephants are going to be killed this way?”

The state has a poor record of protecting its wildlife with as many as 250 elephants and 504 other wild animals having died since 2009, according to official data.

India is home to around 25,000 Asian elephants but their numbers are falling due to poaching, chiefly for the precious ivory, and destruction of habitat by human populations. “And Trains!!”

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Published on 30 Dec 2012

A passenger train ploughed into and killed five elephants as the herd crossed railroad tracks in Odisha. The incident happened in the Rambha forest area, about 180 kilometres south of Bhubaneshwar. The chief conservator of the state’s wildlife department has blamed railroad authorities. He says Rail authorities ignore Forest dept’s warning that trains should slow down because a herd of elephants was moving in the area. The railroad spokesman said the warning came too late. India’s wild elephant population was recently estimated at about 26-thousand.

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In India, Poachers Are Now Killing Elephants With Electrified Power Lines

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This year, 295 elephants have died in Odisha, India; 61 by electrocution.

In India, elephant poaching has taken an electrifying turn—literally.

An Indian elephant calf makes hearts melt. (Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters)

In an attempt to stay one step ahead of the local authorities, poachers in the Ganjam district of Odisha, India, are configuring power lines into homemade, electrocution tripwires, which they are using to kill elephants. Two hundred ninety-five elephants have died in Odisha so far; 61 of those deaths have occurred because of some kind of electrocution.

This has caused a controversy between Odisha’s wildlife conservation and energy department officials. The former believe the poaching is made possible by lax regulation of the power lines; they believe that electricity has spread to rural areas without any supervision by Odisha’s electric companies. The wildlife officers have suggested several remedies, including building taller, more insulated power lines, to help ensure the elephants’ safety. Others suggest cutting off power to areas with large elephant populations during strategic migratory periods.

The energy officials believe that they are not responsible for the illegal poaching. They assert that it is up to the wildlife agency, not the electric companies, to prosecute the poachers. The chief executive officer of Southco, the area’s electric company, told the Times of India that the company has heightened transmission wires and is taking other measures to protect the elephants.

Sadly, poaching is not the only danger to the Indian elephant species. Destruction of their habitat and food sources is also an increasingly serious threat. Elephants are being driven out of their natural habitats, which forces them closer to villages and farmers.  The close human-elephant proximity usually leads to even more poaching.

Instead of wasting time trying to determine what government agency is at fault, action must be taken to end elephant poaching. Administrators have stepped up the number of patrols in the Ganjam District in attempts to discourage poachers. But with a worldwide Asian Elephant population of fewer than 20,000, a number that conservation experts agree is frighteningly low, that may not be enough to protect these animals.

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Wildlife, power authorities lock horns over elephant deaths

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BHUBANESWAR/ BERHAMPUR: With five elephants getting killed in Ganjam district within a fortnight, a blamegame has ensued between the wildlife and electricity authorities in Odisha.

Forest and wildlife officers blamed power distribution companies of not adhering to statutory norms, leading to frequent death of pachyderms in the state. “The killing of five elephants, including two calves and a tusker, in Ganjam since September 25 was because of ‘deliberate electrocution’ by poachers,” principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) J D Sharma told TOI on Monday.

“The electricity distribution companies should install circuit breakers, use insulated transmission wires and erect tall poles (at least 2.7 metre above tree height) to prevent elephant deaths. Despite our repeated reminders they are not doing anything,” Sharma added.

Sources said Sharma, in an official communique, has attributed the elephant deaths in Ganjam to “illegal hooking from 11 KV lines” and said the chief engineer-cum-electrical inspector had not inspected the transmission lines.

A tusker died at Karchuli jungle in Buguda forest range on September 25, followed by an elephant and its calf at Karadabani forest area under Gallery forest range in Ghumusar (north) division and another elephant and its two-month-old calf at Kanakhai jungle under Khallikote forest range on September 6 and 7 respectively. Officers said the big mammals died after coming in contact with live electric wires spread by some locals through hooking from transmission lines to hunt animals or to protect their crop.

Energy minister Arun Sahu disputed Sharma’s version. “We have no information that the elephant died because of fault in power distribution. It appears to be a case of poaching and the forest department should take appropriate remedial action.” Energy secretary P K Jena said, “We do not deny there are deficiencies in electrical infrastructure, but in this particular case it seems to be criminal activity by poachers. It might not be always possible to stop hooking activities inside forests.”

Forest secretary R K Sharma agreed the Ganjam killings were due to “poaching”. “We are disturbed. I and the PCCF (wildlife) would be visiting Ganjam on Tuesday to take stock of the situation and work out strategies to prevent recurrence,” he told TOI.

Regional chief conservator of forests, Berhampur, Jitendra Kumar said it was the responsibility of power companies to guard against illegal hooking. In some cases, the company should snap power supply at night in forest areas, mainly wildlife habitats, in consultation with forest staff, he suggested. Kumar said forest officers have written several letters to Southco (a power distribution company operating in Ganjam and southern parts of Odisha) to take steps to prevent death of animals due to electrocution. “The matter was discussed in different meetings, but the company did not take steps leading to killing of the elephants,” Kumar added.

Official records show that since 2008 as many as 295 elephants, including 61 due to deliberate or accidental electrocution, have perished in Odisha. The rising number of deaths due to electrocution, forest officers said, was because of spread of electricity in rural areas without any precaution.

Chief executive officer, Southco, S Choudhury debunked the allegations, saying: “It is not practically possible to check hooking in the jungle areas with the available infrastructure.” He said the company has increased the height of transmission lines in forest areas, particularly in elephant habitat zones. “To take further steps to prevent death of wild animals, we have submitted a proposal worth Rs 40.35 crore to the state government for the eight southern Odisha districts,” he added.

DFO, Berhampur, S S Mishra said the government had asked forest officers to prosecute power distribution companies, if any animal died due to electrocution caused by the power distributor’s fault.

Forest officers said they had intensified patrolling in Ganjam after the latest deaths and also arrested a personSantosh Nayak (42) of Lendhei village in Tarsingi area, in connection with the elephant deaths at Gallery forest range on Saturday. Two others allegedly involved in the case are absconding. Earlier, forest staff nabbed a person in connection with the killing and looting of tusk of a pachyderm in Buguda forest range on September 25. “We have also declared rewards to those who provide information on laying of electric wires for poaching,” said DFO, Ghumusar (north), K C Mishra.

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