WILDLIFE: Elephant blocks trains in Dooars

WILDLIFE: Elephant blocks trains in Dooars – unforgotten vengeance against mowing down 19 of their own or engine romance ?!!

Broad gauge tracks passing through Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary - time to be extra cautious for rail drivers ?!! (TT)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Siliguri, Aug. 17: A elephant suspected to be on mast blocked the railway tracks passing through the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary two times today. The animal also damaged a train engine and delayed three expresses.

The drama started unfolding between Sevoke and Gulma stations around 9.45am when the driver of a passenger train that was on its way to New Jalpaiguri from Alipurduar noticed the adult makna (male without tusks) on the tracks.

“He stopped the train near Gulma station and waited for the elephant to move. However, the animal walked towards the train and damaged the engine with the trunk,” said A. Hossain, the senior divisional commercial manager of the Alipurduar division of Northeast Frontier Railway.

“The train was forced to stop for 34 minutes and resumed the journey when the elephant left the tracks. Because of the damage caused to the engine, the train stopped at Gulma station for 16 minutes to carry out preliminary repairs. We changed the engine at NJP to run the train back to Alipurduar in the afternoon,” said Hossain.

The drama, however, did not end. The elephant again came out of the nearby jungles and stood on the tracks, blocking the Guwahati-bound Sampark Kranti Express around 1.30pm. The foresters had to swing into action once again and the animal was sent back to the forest in 30 minutes.

Since the Dooars rail tracks were converted into broad gauge in 2004, 19 elephants have been mowed down by trains, mostly at night. After several meetings and correspondences between the state forest department and the railways, it was decided that trains would decelerate while travelling through the forests at night. Still, animals continued to be mowed down on the tracks and foresters alleged that drivers were not slowing down trains.

The forest department said today’s trouble had been created by a makna. “It moves alone. We have, however, managed to steer it out of the tracks,” said a forester from Sukna.

The railways said apart from the passenger and the Sampark Kranti, two other trains were also delayed because of the elephant. These trains are Mahananda Express and Jabbalpur Express.

Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer (wildlife-I), said: “It seems that the elephant was on mast, but we are yet to confirm it. We have requested the railways to ask the drivers to slow down trains tonight as the same elephant might stand on the tracks.”

Elephants are on mast (on heat) during the mating season.

MEANWHILE FROM THE TELEGRAPH BRIEFS

Jumbo attack

Jaigaon: Two residents of Sylee Tea Estate in Malbazar were injured when a wild elephant raided the tea estate on Monday night. Foresters said the animal had entered the garden from Bhuttabari forest and attacked Milan Chettri and Sushil Kujur. Both are being treated at Malbazar Subdivisional Hospital.

Oral bait best to trap bears on prowl: Foresters – sleepy bears or stoned bears ?!!

Guns, firecrackers and sedative-laced balls used by the forest department to drive away and trap bears - very interesting task with the wild thrill of the hunt ?!! (Prabin Khaling)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Gangtok, Aug. 17: The forest department in Sikkim is banking on oral baits to trap wild bears lurking on the fringes of human habitats, the decision coming close on the heels of two attacks by the carnivores in the past one week.

In the face of standard procedures like steel cages, firecrackers and tranquillising guns, the department feels that food balls laced with sedatives is a safer option to trap the Himalayan black bear which is known to have mauled foresters as well.

A mixture of maize, ground nuts and jaggery rolled into balls weighing 150gm each will be used as the bait, said East Sikkim divisional forest officer (wildlife) Karma Legshey.

“We will place 20 such balls inside a cage and five of these will be laced with 5 to 8ml of oral sedatives like ketamine. Once a bear is attracted to the bait, it will come to the cage and the trap door will immediately shut down. Once trapped, the animal moves around in the cage for some time but ultimately cools down and feeds on these balls. There will not be any immediate effect but after 15-20 minutes the bear will go to sleep,” said Legshey.

The forest department had used this method in December after the usual strategy of shooting tranquilliser darts proved counterproductive with the wild bears attacking the shooters. Three forest officials had been mauled in November while trying to dart a bear in Silchey.

In December the department came up with the oral bait strategy.

Success came immediately when a black bear weighing almost a tonne was trapped by this method at lower Dalapchand in Rongli subdivision of East Sikkim on December 14.

The animal had gobbled up around 370 chickens in a poultry farm which it raided for two nights.

The foresters had set up a trap in the farm and had placed the bait laced with sedatives inside a cage. The animal was trapped and was later released into the Memenchu Lake forest near the Nathu-la border.

“We have already prepared 40 oral baits. Twenty balls have been dispatched along with a cage to Sumik Linzey where a bear had attacked a farmer on August 15,” he said.

The 36-year-old man lost an eye in the fight with the bear, which he came upon suddenly while returning home from the field.

“The bear has not been sighted again though we have placed the trap along with the sedative-laced balls on the edge of the Fhabonglho wildlife sanctuary,” said the DFO.

On August 12, a 39-year-old farmer had been attacked in a village in West Sikkim. Sonam Lepcha suffered big cuts on his legs and body.

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