Trains in India crushing elephants and tigers as officials look the other way

S. N. M. Abdi
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Tigers, lions and elephants are being mowed down by high speed trains in India with alarming regularity outraging animal rights activists but the federal or state governments don’t bat an eyelid.

Last month, three lions were run over by a goods train in at Borala in Gujarat’s famed Gir forest. Fences were erected on either side of rail tracks in Rajula-Savarkundla region of the western state after six lions were crushed to death in 2014-2015 preventing more tragedies. But the tracks are not fenced in Borala. Official reason: “Too costly”.


Last month, two tiger cubs were mowed down by a train in the Chichpalli forest of Maharashtra. A spate of protests on social media did not elicit even a flicker of response from callous railway officials or forest wardens tasked with protecting endangered wildlife.

And when it comes to elephant deaths on rail tracks, India holds the world record! Government statistics show that 150 jumbos were run over by trains between 1987 and 2010. But in just eight years, from 2010 to 2017, the toll rose to 120.

In 2018, trains crushed as many as 20 elephants to death in their habitats, signaling a new low. Ordinary citizens are horrified by blood-spattered television images of jumbos mowed down by trains hurtling thorough forests in the dead of night.

Footage of cranes removing elephantine carcasses from tragedy sites is heart-wrenching. But the outrage and sadness hasn’t jolted officials out of their stupor. Ironically, elephant is the mascot of Indian Railways. But they are still falling prey to more and faster trains running through elephant habitats in several states.

Queen of elephants

Parbati Barua is a wildlife conservationist and the subject of a BBC documentary Queen of the Elephants. She told Al Arabiya English that while “human life is precious, it is even more important to save majestic animals like elephants, tigers and lions because they are becoming extinct even as human population is steadily growing.”

“As a conservationist, I firmly believe that shielding dwindling wildlife from attacks by man is more important than saving man from animals. In the so-called man-animal conflict, I am for animals.”

The federal and state administrations are unmoved but scientists clearly are more compassionate and doing whatever they can to help endangered animals survive in the face of adversity.

Experiments are underway with an electronic device which replicates the sound of angry bees. Elephants are known to be so terrified of the sound of buzzing that they take to their heels. Playing the recording will keep jumbos away from railway tracks which have turned into death traps.

Another device driven by a set of four sensors – the brainchild of a professor at New Delhi’s Institute of Technology (IIT) - will alert train drivers in the near future about the movement of elephants along the tracks. The countdown for the implementation of these innovative gadgets has begun.

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