Villagers gather around the tragic sight of the body of a bull elephant, the latest victim to be struck down on India’s railways by a speeding train.
A formidable beast weighing several tonnes, the fully grown male was hit by the Siliguri-Alipurduar Express passenger train yesterday while crossing the track in West Bengal’s Dooars Forest, near the village of Mongpong.
The line had to be completely shut down while staff worked to remove the magnificent creature.
The death is yet another reminder of the dangers that India’s trains pose to elephants.
At least five elephants have been knocked down and killed by speeding trains in the past two years.
Opened in 1949, the track traverses five forests densely populated with elephants – Buxa, Jaldapara, Gorumara, Chapramari and Mahananda.
Throughout its length, it criss-crosses common jungle tracks, which are corridors for elephant herds migrating from Assam to the Nepal forests through the Dooars.
Casualties have been a common feature of life around the track ever since. In response to the problem, speeds were restricted to 50km.
Chief Wildlife Warden NC Bahuguna said: ‘There is a need to further restrict the speed limit of the trains on the Siliguri-Alipurduar stretch. We are discussing on lowering the speed limit to below 25 km.’
Since the tracks on the 163-km long route were converted to broad gauge in 2004, speeding trains have mowed down nearly 40 elephants.
Speaking about the plans to upgrade the line in 2001, state forest minister Jogesh Burman predicted it would be ‘a cancer for our wildlife’.
He was speaking against the back drop of a baby elephant that had been struck down in Mongpong.
The calf was badly injured with a pelvic fracture and rescuers had to risk their lives to treat it.
The mother of the calf stood over its dying baby fiercely guarding it, and other members of the heard waited in the forest nearby.
On Thursday, the carcass of an elephant was found with its head chopped off on the outskirts of Neora Valley National Park in Kalimpong subdivision. Poachers have been blamed for the sickening incident.