Thanks to the quick thinking action of a patrolling team a herd of 15 elephants was recently saved from a fatal collision with a train in the Deepor Beel railway stretch near Guwahati in Assam. The patrolling has till date prevented 80 accidents of such kind in the state.
The patrolling along railway tracks in Assam is an initiative that was started out in November 2008, by the Assam Forest Department, Northeast Frontier Railways and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) supported by the UK-based charity Elephant Family (EF), under the Train Hits Mitigation Project.
In the past 65 train-elephant collisions have proved fatal and the tragedy is fairly common in this eastern state owing to many railway tracks cris-crossing through dense forests with elephant population. The frequency of accidents saw an increase from 1990.
Alramed by this accidents in 2008 WTI carried out a rapid survey to analyse the accident prone areas and thereby form a site-specific solution to the problem.
The studies identified about 23 accident-prone sections in eight forest divisions in Assam. On priority basis seven of these sites are patrolled by volunteers including the Deepor-beel patch. This team usually comprises of six members, two each from forest department, railways and WTI-EF.
Commenting on the benefit of this patrolling SSK Seal Sharma, of the Assam forest department said,
“Elephants from Rani-Garbhanga Reserve Forest move to the Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary for water, crossing through the track between Azara and Kamakhya Railway Stations. Due to the efforts of the patrolling team, elephant mortality in this stretch has been reduced to zero in the last one year, with 35 potential accidents averted.”
They patrol during nights and if they sight an elephant or any other animal on the tracks the driver of the approaching train is informed using the railway control rooms.
“This is a simple yet very effective mechanism to prevent accidents,” said RK Badal, Divisional Engineer, Rongia Division, Northeast Frontier Railways. “The alerted drivers of the approaching trains reduce their speed and warn the animals of their arrival by sounding the whistle. We are proud to be a part of this conservation initiative.”
Apart from the patrolling, other efforts like putting signage along the tracks and training railway staff to avoid animal-train collisions have also been initiated by the organisations.
“We are also exploring the possibilities of leveling some steep embankments along the tracks and other accident mitigation measures in other areas,” said Professor PC Bhattacharjee, Executive Trustee, WTI. “In Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand Forest Department and Northern Railways assisted by WTI have ensured zero deaths of elephants due to train hits since 2002 (before this, about 20 elephants were killed here since 1987). We are trying to achieve the same result in Assam, but this will take time as Assam is a huge state. Only last month, an elephant was injured in a train hit in Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary. The elephant was being treated by the Forest Department assisted by our team, but it succumbed to its injuries this morning.”