With seven elephants including three pregnant females losing their lives after being knocked down by speeding trains, the Assam forest department has decided to set up control rooms in each forest division in the state to monitor 24×7 movement of wild elephants and alert the railways when they get close to the tracks.
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“The department is setting up control rooms in each forest division and involve local people through anti-depredation squads in keeping a round-the-clock eye on movement of wild elephants. A workshop for railway engine drivers is also being organised on Tuesday to sensitise them on elephant movement,” a forest department official said.
While three elephants including a pregnant female were killed near Jamunamukh railway station, about 125 kms east of Guwahati on Saturday, three others – two of them pregnant – were killed near Jugijan railway station, about 15 km westwards, on December 5. A seventh elephant lost its life on the railway tracks near Rangjuli on December 6.
“The control rooms will monitor with the help of anti-depredation squads and local gaonburras (village headmen) about elephant movement near the railway tracks, and accordingly keep the nearest station masters updated. Railways on the other hand, have been asked to keep the train speed below 15 kmph,” the official said.
Meanwhile, several conservation NGOs have asked the government and railways to take more practical steps to avoid elephant deaths on railway tracks. “This alarming rise in the number of elephant deaths in the state should be a wake-up call for the railways, forest department and the district administration. The situation calls for immediate action to put an end to this continuous horror, now playing out in Assam at a regular pace. There is a need to make a concerted effort to immediately stop these tragic deaths,” Anupam Sarmah, Head of WWF-India’s Assam Landscape said here on Sunday.
Quoting a Wildlife Trust of India report, Sarmah said, “Over 41% of India’s elephant corridors are in the Northeast and 25% of the elephant corridors in Assam have railway lines passing through them. As elephants search for food and water, they roam over a large extent of area through villages and towns, crossing railway lines and farms. Linear infrastructure development near and in corridors that elephants use to move from one forest area to another, force them to cross railway tracks where they end up getting hit by trains.”
“The unabated killing of wild elephants in Assam by speeding trains has become a major concern. We appeal to Rajen Gohain, MoS Railways, to seriously look into the matter and direct the railways authorities to take steps to reduce speed in key elephant passages in Assam,” Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, CEO of leading wildlife conservation Aaranyak said. Talukdar is also Chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group, and Asian Rhino Coordinator for the International Rhino Foundation, said. Aaranyak had a few years back helped railways train loco-pilots and other staff on issues related to wild elephants crossing railway tracks.
Experts have also asked the government to make a fresh assessment of elephant corridors in view of increasing deaths and human-elephant in recent times. While there are 27 identified elephant corridors under the Northeast Frontier Railway in Assam, elephant herds are also found crossing railway tracks in areas which are not marked as vulnerable. “In light of this, what is needed is a fresh assessment to identify new vulnerable railway sections. An early warning system is also required immediately to reduce these casualties,” Sarmah said.