Save elephants from trains, says animal rights body

April 17th, 2008 - 7:41 pm ICT by admin  


Chennai, April 17 (IANS) The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India has filed a Right to Information request with the Ministry of Railways asking what action it has taken to protect elephants from being knocked down by speeding trains. In February, PETA wrote to Railways Minister Lalu Prasad urging him to save elephants from such accidents as the mascot of the Indian Railways is “Bholu”, an elephant.

On Feb 11, three elephants including a pregnant jumbo were killed after they were hit by a speeding train near Coimbatore. The elephant herd was crossing the rail track in the early hours of the morning.

The incident occurred when two male elephants were trying to push and rescue the 25-year-old pregnant elephant, terrified and unable to move from the railway track after she noticed the approaching train. The speeding train was on a trial run and not a scheduled service.

“Elephant herds migrate long distances in search of food. This allows the vegetation to regenerate after the herd passes through an area,” PETA India’s chief functionary Anuradha Sawhney said.

“The matriarch leading the herd follows traditional migration routes, which may have been in use for centuries.”

“The presence of railways in protected areas around the country has caused death of many wild elephants through accidents. Sadly, no suitable steps have been taken to protect these elephants from criminal harm,” she added.

Recalling that on the eve of the 150th year of the Indian Railways, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had declared “Bholu” the elephant as the railways mascot, PETA noted: “Ironically the India Railways has become the reason for deaths of many of Bholu’s real life friends in the wild.”

“The ministry must take action to protect elephants,” PETA said in its letter to Lalu Prasad.

Drawing the minister’s attention to “an important issue that will help conserve Asian elephants”, PETA’s letter pointed out: “Recently, a baby elephant was hit by a train, dragged 900 metres and torn to pieces near the Shikari train crossing in Rajabhatkhawa, West Bengal.”

“According to a report in The Telegraph, 10 elephants have died after being hit by trains on the Alipurduar Junction-Siliguri line (in West Bengal) since 2004.”

PETA in its letter said: “… under your (Lalu’s) leadership, we are confident that this will change. ”

They requested Lalu Prasad to establish “an empowered committee” with representation from the Ministry of Railways, the Ministry of Surface Transport, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Wildlife Institute of India, NGOs and other representatives to develop a plan of action to protect these elephants.

In the letter to the minister, PETA suggested that the committee examine solutions like reducing train speed to 20 km/hr through the forest in areas where elephants are known to travel; removing mounds and clearing bushes at the turnings so that drivers will have clear views; restoring corridors without railway tracks so that elephants can move freely in these areas.

The ministry could alter the schedules of trains that run in the evening and at night through areas where elephants are known to be present; ensure that train services that have caused accidents in the past travel carefully through these areas; ensure that Project Elephant maintains a database on elephant mortality due to train accidents for the entire country; and regulate garbage disposal (near tracks which draw elephants).

Urging speedy action on part of the Indian Railways, PETA has said: “Time is of the essence if India’s elephants are to be saved.”

According to Sandeep Tiwari of the Wildlife Trust of India, more than 110 elephants have been killed in train-hits since 1987. This year at least six such deaths have been recorded so far.

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