Barbed wire to keep elephants away from rail tracks

March 13th, 2008 - 3:13 pm ICT by admin  

Coimbatore, March 13 (IANS) To prevent elephants being hit by speeding trains, the ministries of environment and forests and of railways are considering setting up barbed wire fencing along several hundred kilometres of rail tracks in the Western Ghat forests straddling the borders of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The move comes after the death of a pregnant elephant, along with two other elephants, when they were hit by a train passing between Pothanur and Madhukkari stations, about 20 km from the textile town of Coimbatore, in the early hours of Feb 4.

The train, a mainline electrical multiple unit (MEMU), was on its way to Palakkad in Kerala from Erode in Tamil Nadu, when it ran into the herd. In the impact, the pregnant elephant delivered a calf, which also died on the spot.

In another instance, five elephants - three adults and two calves - were mowed down by a speeding train in Hosur subdivision of Tamil Nadu, in the forests bordering Karnataka, in early 2000.

The main train-elephant conflict zone is the under-construction Nilambur-Nanjangod rail line cutting across the Nilgiri biosphere, which passes through various wildlife sanctuaries.

Environmentalists say this rail line can harm the elephant herds living in the Wayanad plateau.

The regional chapter of the Wildlife Protection Society of India said 15 or more elephants were killed in the Walayar region bordering Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the last four-five months.

The railway project starts from Nilambur and passes through the forest regions of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu cutting across the elephant passages in Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, the Wayanad-Walayar region of Kerala and the Bandipur wildlife sector in Karnataka.

The Kallar elephant corridor is one of the main corridors with a huge population of elephants moving between Mannarkadu, Silent Valley and Coimbatore. Other corridors under threat include Mettupalayam, Thadagam, Vellingiri hills, Kovaipudur and Ettimadai.

Besides the seasonal migrations in search of fodder and water, from November to March, elephant herds crisscross the forests throughout the year.

Forest department sources here said elephants are very alert animals. They know when trains pass by and are even conscious of the timing.

“Both times, in Coimbatore as well as in Hosur, the trains that were involved in the elephant deaths were unscheduled trains on trial runs,” a top forest department source told IANS.

While there are about seven elephants passages in the Walayar region, there are more than a dozen elephant corridors along the proposed Nilambur-Nanjangod railway line. India has about 88 elephant corridors, where herds move across several state borders. About 20 of them are in south India.

“Blind execution of projects may cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem and the animal world coexisting with human beings in the planet,” S. Guruvayoorappan, project director and coordinator of WPSI, has repeatedly warned.

His solution: rail lines ought to be on elevated ground, positioned on concrete pillars; and in mountainous areas tunnels ought to be used to ensure smooth animal movements.

The WPSI has called for a special awareness campaign and training for train drivers who tend to speed on the Walayar forest stretch.

Guruvayoorappan has advocated local eco-development committees should coordinate migrations to avoid the man-animal-train conflict.

The herd that was killed in February in Coimbatore had strayed from the regular corridor and had been plaguing villages.

“Electric fencing and digging of trenches are not a solution to elephants straying on to railway tracks,” the WPSI official said, calling for a railway ministry-forest department joint mechanism to stop elephants being mowed down by trains.

He also pointed out that large tracts of forest in the Western Ghats have been taken over by educational institutions and industries. “Wildlife is being denied land for grazing,” said the WPSI official.

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