Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Sad death of jumbos on the train tracks

A sad sight, an elephant struck by a speeding train.
elephants crossing, Kerala

The Elephant- human conflicts in India as the days go by, do not show any sign of slowing down. This problem has been very much in south India especially in Kerala near the border areas of Kerala and Tamil Nadu states for years with no quick-fix solution in sight. Because of  major factor such as urbanization, dam projects, etc., elephants are being squeezed into smaller and smaller places. Further, the farmers in the border areas of the habitats, plant those crops or trees on their farms that elephants love to eat and frequent such places. They cause severe damages to crops and sometimes to the people living in their path of access to areas where food and water are available in plenty. Consequently  affection and admiration for these largest mammals are displaced by fear and anger among those whose lands are raided by them. The shrinkage of habitat and  conflict with human are among the biggest threats to the elephants.
Jumbo giving nice kick from his rear leg!! /
Almost no day passes without a piece of news on Indian elephants in the new papers, be it jumbos'  participation in the temple festival or running amuck in some place or their playing  hide and seek with state forest officials who use various stratagems to drive them out from the invaded farm lands in districts like Coimbatore, Nilgiris and Theni of Tamil Nadu. However, the news items on the death of jumbos on the railroad tracks have pained me a lot, in spite of  sincere efforts made by the government authorities to avoid such mishaps.  The railroad passing through some ghat section near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu has become a death trap for elephants. It is tragic to see a  jumbo lying either dead or seriously injured on the train track. Such instances of train hits on the jumbo have been on the increase in the last few years. Before 2011, on the track in the Walayar forest area, Kerala, where  more than 400 elephants live, 20 elephants had been killed because of train hit. In  February 2008 a pregnant elephant along with two elephants were hit by a train running between Podanur  and Madukarai in the Coimbatore Walayar section. It was the talk of the near by towns for sometime because, in the impact, the elephant  delivered a calf which also died along with its mother. According to a recent survey,  the maximum deaths on the track take place along the stretch from Podanur and Palakkad (Kerala) section, the reason being the rail road track goes through the forest section that is frequented by elephants that cross the  tracks in groups in search of food, etc. Normally a population of 100 elephants need 5000 sq. km area for development. Their ecological home becoming small, obviously, they spread out in search of water and food, crossing the highways and train tracks.
Elephants crossing the railroad track, Walayar, Kerala

It is reported that since 1978, 17 elephants have died in 12 accidents along the 16.25 km to 25 km long track and 18 km long track along the Podanur and Palakkad section. In the last two months a couple of deaths had taken place in this section  and a study on the patterns of behavior of the elephants by the authorities based on camera trap images found out that the elephants were crossing the tracks to reach the water body on the other side. The main reason for their  long stay on the track is 25 feet elevation on both sides of the track which forces the jumbos to slow down on the track before ascend or descend the gradient. This rail road track is the busiest one, linking many cities of Kerala to the other states, including major cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata. The frequency of trains is very high.
The  state forest department, Tamil Nadu has a plan to construct concrete ramps  along the vulnerable section, making it easy for the big animals to  climb  and descend from higher elevation. The local cement factory has agreed to provide cement waste to build bases for the ramps. This project, once completed, will help the forest officials to undertake a detailed  study of the behavior patterns of the elephants with the help of images taken by the cameras. Besides, they have plan to have a water trough built on the hill side and this will reduce the instances of jumbos crossing the dangerous railroad tracks for water on the other side. The Palakkad  Division of Southern Railway already cleared the vast growth of vegetation on the sides of the track along the curves  for better visibility of  the Loco drivers. Besides, they have additional warning boards on both sides to warn the drivers about elephant crossing.

The animal lovers and the government agencies are keeping their fingers crossed as such unfortunate accidents do occur despite precautions. The curved tracks  near Walayar hinder the visibility for the driver and the elephants stand there stunned on the track, and do nor have enough time to move out of the track on seeing the speeding train.  A  train moving at a speed of  25 km is fatal for an elephant. 

To maintain ecological balance of the habitat and to safeguard the safety of elephants and the people living just away from the habitats, the government has to take serious steps. As for the death of jumbo on the train track, building ramp is a good proposition. How well it will work, we have to wait and see.