Palakkad: An adult elephant was killed and her calf was possibly injured after being hit by a train passing through the Wayalar forest in Palakkad Friday morning.
A herd of elephants was crossing the railway track when the Kanyakumari-Dibrugarh Vivek Express hit one of them around 3.15 am, 5km from Kanjikode, said a Southern Railway Palakkad Division official. "That was the first message from the loco pilot. After checking the engine, tracks, and insulations, the train left the spot. The train was delayed by 22 minutes," he said.
Forest and Railway officials later reached the spot, Kottamutti, and found the elephant's carcass near the railway track. "It was a female elephant around 20 years old, and possibly a mother," said Palakkad Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Kurra Srinivas.
The officer said he could hear the sound of other elephants from the (Vadassery) hills. The calf could be with the herd, he said.
The 11-km railway line between Kanjikode and Walayar is one of the most dangerous for elephants. According to a Forest Department's report on the human-animal conflict, 15 elephants were killed between 2002 and 2019 after being hit by trains between Kanjikode and Walayar.
All the accidents happened on the railway's 'B' line which cuts through the forest. Friday's accident also happened on the same line.
The DFO said the last time such an accident happened on the stretch was on the eve of Christmas in 2019 when a tusker was mowed down by Thiruvananthapuram-Chennai Express. Since then, increased monitoring, alert mechanism, and solar fences have prevented train-elephant collisions.
Kerala Forest Department, however, does not count the three elephants, including a calf, hit by Mangaluru-Chennai Express in November 2021, because it happened just across the border in Tamil Nadu; on the same stretch but on the 'A' line.
Trains travel at a reduced speed of 42 kmph on the stretch to avoid colliding with elephants. "But today's accident proves that even 42kmph is fatal when passing through the forest," said N Sasindrababu, an environmentalist and volunteer of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, an investigation agency of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
The railway track passes through the elephant corridor that starts from the Brahmagiri mountain range between Kodagu and Wayanad, enters Silent Valley and Attappadi, and ends in Mettupalayam, he said. "The elephants deviate from the path in search of food and water and return to the same corridor. Fencing and trenches cannot stop them," he said. The only long-term solution is to build underpasses for the elephants or an elevated path for the trains, he said.
Environmentalist N Badusha of Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi has urged the MoEFCC to intervene to ensure the safety of wild animals.