Assam mulls Thermal Sensors along rail tracks to reduce Elephant deaths

Railway lines- Death traps for elephants and tigers. N.F.Railway announces measures to prevent jumbo deaths in Assam in association with State’s Forest Department

Guwahati: Expressing concern over the death of elephants in the state due to conflict with humans as well as train collisions, Assam Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma on Thursday said that the government is contemplating to use thermal sensors along the railway tracks to detect the movement of elephants particularly during night.

Addressing a press conference in her office, she said that the Forest Department is also mulling to involve local people as well as to strengthen the coordination with railway authorities to stop elephant fatalities.

“It is a fact that the number of elephants are increasing in Assam and their habitations are reducing.

According to the last elephant census in 2011, Assam has 5,620 elephants. Besides the state also see large number of elephant migration from Meghalaya and Bhutan,” she said adding that all these factors have reduced the elephant habitats in the state, forcing the animals to often come out from forests to be either engage in conflict with humans or to get killed by speeding trains on tracks.

Recently, In three separate incidents, four elephants and a tiger were killed on railway tracks this week – and in Assam itself, three elephants – two of whom were pregnant – were mowed down by a train at Jugijan Railway Station in Lumding Division of Northeast Frontier Railway in central Assam’s Nagaon district. Two days later, another elephant was found dead near railway tracks in Goalpara district. In an another incident, a four year old tiger was killed after being hit by a train at Satna district in Madhya Pradesh on 5 December. More than 10 elephants have died in the state since November, the primary cause of which has been man-elephant conflict.

The Minister said that the state had lost a total of seven elephants till date since May this year after being hit by speeding trains. Apart from this, two elephants were killed by poisoning and one by poachers.

“We have taken the matter seriously. We cannot let this happen again and again. Our department is mulling over a host of measures to reduce incidents of elephants death as well as human elephant conflicts,” she said adding that decisions have been taken to press NGOs into service to reduce man-elephant conflicts.

“We are also going to sit with the Railway Department so that we are in a position to strictly implement the minimum speed of trains while crossing elephant corridors,” she said adding that anti-depredation squads have been formed in association with local youth and training is being imparted to them to deal with man-animal conflict as well as to prevent untoward incidents regarding the safety of wild animals.

The Minister admitted here is scarcity of well-trained veterinarians in Assam to attend to the wild animals. “We have decided to ask the veterinary university to open up a specialised wing so that their services can be hired for treating animals in wild during emergencies,” said Brahma.

“In Assam, we are facing a new challenge in preventing jumbo deaths as the elephant herds are crossing railway tracks in different locations which are not earmarked as vulnerable in the state forest department’s advisory list. Some of the recent train accidents involving jumbos occurred in Assam at those locations which are not mentioned as vulnerable by the state forest department. A concerted effort is required to tackle the jumbo death issue, which is becoming serious with growing human-elephant conflict,” said a senior railways official.

The plight of India’s ‘National Heritage Animal’ on railway tracks needs urgent attention from the Ministry of Railways, Government of India. More than 200 elephants have been killed due to train hits in the last 30 years. Ironically, Indian’s Railway’s mascot Bholu, is also an elephant.

Incidents involving wildlife deaths occurring along the railway tracks are an increasing concern. Such incidents have also increased after conversion of the tracks from meter gauge to broad gauge. Since this shift, there are far more passenger and freight trains covering more than 1500km of railway tracks which pass through some of the country’s most sensitive wildlife habitats, including Protected Areas and wildlife corridors.

While the up-gradation of railway infrastructure is needed, measures need to be taken to reduce its adverse impacts on forests and wildlife. Concrete steps need to be enforced to reduce  incidents of train-hits. Railways, Forest Department and District Administration need to take up joint efforts including patrolling to monitor elephant movement near railway tracks, regular coordination meetings and the need to put in a system where near-real time information can be fed into the train movement system to warn locomotive drivers of probable elephant crossings. Speed limitations need to be put in places where railway tracks move through wildlife habitats. Most importantly, locomotive drivers need to strictly adhere to speed limitations when passing through stretches where elephants cross railway tracks. Implementation of focussed long-term awareness programme for railway staff in wildlife areas are crucial in addressing this issue.

Key stakeholders involving Indian Railways, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and state Forest Departments and civil society in elephant range states need to implement tangible actions to reduce elephant mortality due to train-hits in the country.

For more information:

Rituparna Sengupta; Senior Manager, Campaigns, Brand and Media; 011-41504797
Indira Akoijam; Manager, Communications, Species and Landscapes Programme; 011-41504783