MIRZA, Dec 9 – The movement of Asiatic elephants to the famous Deepor Beel Bird Sanctuary has declined as the traditional corridors used by them while coming down from the Rani and Garbhanga Reserve Forests (RFs) to the Deepor Beel have been blocked due to setting up of railway tracks and also construction of concrete walls along the railway line.Forest officials posted in the Deepor Beel, which is the first bird sanctuary of Assam and also a Ramsar site, maintained that Asiatic elephants come down to the Deepor Beel through four corridors which are located at Bhangra Than in Deochotal village, watch tower of Deepor Beel Bird Sanctuary, Chokordoi (Mikirpara) and Matalbari near the Matiapahar area.
“Concrete walls have been constructed on the traditional corridors of elephants near the Deepor Beel along the railway lines and thus elephant movements have been partially blocked which is not a wildlife management plan. The concrete walls and railway line have not only fragmented the habitat of the wild elephants and other wild animals but also prevented animals from coming down to Deepor Beel for food and recreation. Construction of the concrete walls and embankments on either side of the railway tracks, which has almost blocked the traditional corridors, has led to random movement of elephants to Deepor Beel. As the elephants do not come through the permanent corridors, it is going to be a difficult task for the Forest personnel to monitor the random movement of elephants to the Beel and the random movements will cause death or injury to elephants as it is very difficult for the Forest personnel to convey information to the Railway authorities to guide the drivers of approaching trains either to stop or slow down,” said a Forest official on condition of anonymity. He has been monitoring movements of elephants and other wildlife at the Deepor Beel.
A mahout posted in the Deepor Beel Bird Sanctuary Office, who also did not wish to be named, said that the Deepor Beel is the vital source of water for wild elephants and other wildlife of Rani, Garbhanaga and other adjoining RFs. The wild denizens also cool themselves at the Deepor Beel during summer. He added that wild elephant herds have traditionally been migrating to Deepor Beel seeking food like meteka (water hyacinth), dal, tora and other wild grasses. Large herds of elephants stayed in the beel for several days.
But now the population and size of elephant herds and also frequency of movement of elephants to the beel have been reducing by the day. According to Forest personnel deputed in the Deepor Beel Bird Sanctuary, the railway track sliced the southern side of the wild habitat of the Deepor Beel and also the northern side Rani and Garbhanga RFs. The impact on wildlife and wild habitat after establishment of the railway track by the side of the Deepor Beel had far-reaching consequences, causing the death of nine Asiatic elephants including a calf, many pythons and leopard cat (all are endangered animals under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972) till date.
The Forest personnel said that over 58 elephants have been saved from being hit by trains by the timely intervention. He observed that the increase in the number of trains running along the Kamakhya-Jogighpa railway track had complicated the patrolling operations. Sources said that Forest personnel deputed for patrolling of elephants in the railway track have been facing other problems. The railway track in the Deepor Beel stretch is reportedly controlled by two divisions – down trains coming from the Azara Station side are controlled by the Rangia Division, whereas the up trains coming from the Kamakhya Station are controlled by the Lumding Division of the North East Frontier Railway for which Forest personnel find it difficult to convey information to the appropriate division during emergencies for preventing wild elephants from being hit by trains.
“If we convey the information of elephant movement on the railway track to Rangia Railway Division to control up trains approaching the Deepor beel from the Kamakhya Station side, the Rangia Division does not convey the message to Lumding Division for onward convey of information to the driver of the approaching train as the up trains are under the control of Lumding Division. “Similarly, if we convey information to the Lumding Division for trains coming from the Azara Station side, the Lumding division does not act as the down trains are controlled by the Rangia Division. In many cases, it is going to be a difficult task to contact the Railway division concerned to convey to avert rail hits.”
Sources said that the North East Frontier Railway needs to entrust one of its two divisions, either Rangia or Lumding, with guiding drivers of up and down trains. Environmentalist Dr PC Bhattarcharjyee told this correspondent that over 80 cases of train-elephant accidents have been averted in Assam including in the Deepor Beel segment of the railway line by constituting joint patrolling teams comprising Railway, Forest and Wildlife Trust of India and no train hit was recorded at the Deepor Beel since the last one year.
It may be mentioned here that more than 110 train-hit death cases have been recorded in India since 1987 out of which 90 per cent cases were recorded in Assam, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. In Assam alone, nearly 50 wild elephants had died in train-elephant collisions, sources said.
A wildlife expert said that the Railway authority should create awareness among drivers and Railway staff for maintaining slow movements of trains to avert train-wild animal collisions further at the Deepor Beel and other sensitive areas. The Railway and Forest Department need to install hoardings in the elephant corridors soon. In the blind turns of the railway tracks, drivers do not see properly and so efforts should be made to clear vegetation and other obstacles in the blind turns for improving visibility.
The Railway needs to level the steep embankments on either side of the track so as to prevent trapping of animals in the track. A detailed scientific study needs to be carried out to identify problems, circumstances and possible biotic and abiotic factors influencing train-elephant collisions at the Deepor Beel and action should be taken accordingly.
“Shifting of the segment of Kamakhya-Joghighopa railway line from the southern side of the Deepor Beel to the northern side through the Assam Engineering College route will sort out the train-wild animal collision to a great extent,” he said, adding that the reported move of the Railway Authority to expand its network linking Azara Station with Barnihat would further aggravate the problem.