ENVIRONMENT & WILDLIFE: Green glare on forest pass plan -‘Impractical’ tag on advisory

ENVIRONMENT & WILDLIFE: Green glare on forest pass plan – ‘Impractical’ tag on advisory – under ground elephant by passes impractical, so what’s the solution, moving the entire rail routes, or slowing the train speeds  ?!!

An elephant crosses the railway tracks inside Rajabhatkhaowa forest. The tracks connect Alipurduar Junction to Siliguri Junction, 160km away - no 'animal habitat survey' done before building rail tracks - what's that survey animal called ?!! (Photo by Anirban Choudhury)

BY ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY

Alipurduar, June 13: An advisory to the state forest department has underscored the construction of underpasses or overpasses across railway tracks in the forests of north Bengal to bring down the number of animal deaths, but wildlife experts claimed the proposal was impractical.

The Union ministry of forests and environment — that had sent the advisory jointly with the railways to the state forest department on June 3 — has agreed to bear the cost of the project along with the expenses of several others like putting up signboards warning train drivers and holding sensitising workshops for motormen and guards.

“The only proposal on the advisory list which can be said to be the most practical is the engagement of animal trackers. They will patrol the jungles on either side of the tracks and will be equipped with either mobile phones or walkie-talkies,” a senior forest officer of north Bengal said.

He said these trackers would pass on information on the movement of elephant and bison herds to the nearest stations so that the station masters could relay a “lookout advice” to trains approaching the areas.

Ever since the tracks that pass through Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Gorumara National Park and the Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) were converted from meter to broad gauge in 2004, 16 elephants, six bison and four leopards have been killed by the speeding trains on the 160-km stretch between Siliguri Junction and Alipurduar Junction.

According to sources, Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh had met senior forest officials from north Bengal in New Delhi about two months ago. “We had explained the problems to him and he had promised to take up the matter with the railways. The recent advisory is a result of that meeting,” a senior forest officer said.

Subhankar Sengupta, the deputy field director (East) of BTR, said the advisory had been circulated. “It also says that vegetation along the tracks should be cleared regularly during the monsoon for better visibility for train drivers,” Sengupta said.

The advisory has, however, not gone down well with nature groups in the region. Animesh Bose, the programme co-ordinator of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, said: “The proposals make it clear that the officials who have prepared them are not at all aware of the ground reality and animal behaviour. The identification of vulnerable portions of the tracks and construction of underpasses and overpasses are ridiculous as the entire stretch between Siliguri and Alipurduar is vulnerable. Moreover, how can one ensure that animals will use these passes. Do they know the difference between a pass and the track?”

He said the worst killers were the trains that pass through the forests at night. “The night running of trains should be stopped as should the non-stop goods trains and super-fast trains that are of no use to the people of the Dooars and are the worst killers of animals,” Bose said.

‘Nepal’ shots hurt jumbo – Indian herd spotted in neighbouring country – Elephants know no country or boundaries ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Siliguri, June 13: Officials of the Kurseong forest division have been looking for an injured elephant, suspected to have been wounded by bullets fired from Nepal. The male elephant was last sighted at the Kalabari forest near the border yesterday.

“While patrolling the Kalabari forest yesterday, our guards spotted a tusker which was apparently hurt on its right hind leg. We are now trying to trace the elephant,” said Bhupen Biswakarma, the range officer of Panighata, today.

The full-grown animal is part of a 100-strong herd with 30-35 calves, which had been roaming the area, about 45km from here, for the past 15 days.

The herd was raiding the Tarabari, Rakamjote, Mallabari, Neopani, Manza, Kataria and Chenga Busty areas of the Kurseong division, close to the India-Nepal border.

The elephants have been often spotted going to the other side of the border crossing the Mechi river. “We were patrolling the areas and were trying to prevent the elephants from entering Nepal and also protecting the forest villages from elephant raids,” an official from the forest division said.

A lone tusker of the herd damaged three huts at Nayabusty early this morning, he added.

Concerned over the deaths of Indian elephants in the neighbouring country — according to the foresters four animals were killed by bullets allegedly fired by residents and police of Nepal over the last two years — the officials of the Kurseong division and NGOs from Nepal’s Jhapa district organised a meeting on June 4 at Naxalbari, about 35km from here.

“During the meeting, the NGOs and the foresters of Nepal had agreed to sensitise border villagers against attacking on elephants. But the injured elephant has made us worried again. We are now concerned about the nature of injuries — whether it was hit by bullet,” a forester said.

Shilwant Patel, the chief conservator of forest, north Bengal, said: “I have told the forest staff to trace the injured elephant so that we can treat the animal.”

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