Seven elephants were killed Wednesday when an Indian passenger train plowed into a herd of pachyderms crossing along railway bridge in a West Bengal forest.
A forest minister said the crash was the worst of its kind in recent memory. And the death toll could soon rise; 10 other elephants were seriously injured and may not survive.
Two calves were among those killed in the crash.
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Authorities said the train was traveling about 50 mph through Chapramari Forest, near Gormuara National Park north of Bangladesh, when it struck a herd comprising 40 elephants crossing on the tracks at dusk on Wednesday, the Daily Mail reported
Unharmed elephants soon returned to the accident scene, officials said.
“The herd scattered, but returned to the railway tracks and stood there for quite some time before they were driven away by forest guards and railroad workers who rushed to the spot after the accident,” Forest Minister Hiten Burman said, according to the Daily Mail.
Dozens of elephants have fallen victim to trains while crossing railroad tracks that run through the country’s national parks and forests. Last December, a train killed five elephants in a neighboring state, the Daily Mail noted.
“It is an irony that elephants are being killed by speeding trains in north Bengal on regular intervals, even though it has been declared as the heritage animal in India and an elephant calf is the mascot of Indian Railways,” wildlife activist Animesh Basu told the Daily Mail.
Up to 20 trains or more pass along the tracks daily.
Basu was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that trains have killed at least 50 elephants since 2004 in West Bengal alone.
India’s wild elephant population is estimated at about 26,000.
The Indian elephant, formally known as Elephas maximus indicus, is a subspecies of the Asian elephant and is listed as endangered after its population has declined by half over the past 75 years. It is estimated that poachers kill some 30,000 elephants for their ivory every year.
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