Seven Elephants Killed by Train in India
2010-09-24

ABC News
Sept. 24, 2010

A speeding goods train crushed seven elephants to death in eastern India after the animals tried to rescue two calves that got stuck in the tracks, conservation officials said.

The baby elephants became trapped as a herd was crossing the line in a densely forested area in the northern district of Jalpaiguri in West Bengal state late on Wednesday night (local time).

"Five elephants died immediately on the track while two others succumbed to their injuries on Thursday morning," Atanu Raha, West Bengal's chief forest conservator said.

The adults had crowded around the stricken calves to protect them when they were hit, he added. The two calves were among the dead.

Traffic was suspended overnight and the surviving members of the herd were still at the scene in the morning, watching over the dead and injured, he said.

More than 20 elephants had died in a little over a year in the area, which is a known corridor for the wild animals, the official said.

He said the train was travelling at 70 kilometres an hour when the speed limit was restricted to a maximum of 40 kph.

"We have lodged a complaint with the local police station against the railway," he added.

A Bengali TV channel reported that hundreds of people staged a noisy demonstration near the scene of the accident in protest at the latest deaths.

India is home to an estimated 25,000 wild elephants but their numbers are fast depleting due to poaching, loss of habitat and also train accidents, particularly in eastern and north-eastern states.

Elephants are considered sacred in Hindu-majority India and earlier this month the environment and forest ministry declared them a "national heritage animal" that should be given the same protection as the endangered tiger.

Wednesday's accident came as Hindus celebrated the end of an 11-day annual festival marking the birth of Lord Ganesha, the revered elephant-headed god.

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