There’s no revenge like elephant revenge. After a speeding train killed a young elephant in North Bengal’s Gulma forest in August, a passing train was battered by an angry male elephant in what wildlife officials consider retribution for the death. According to witnesses, the elephant blocked the tracks that morning, forcing the passenger train to stop. Nearby staff from the forest department staff chased it into the forest, but when the train started moving, the elephant emerged and rammed into a coach, halting the train. It continued to batter the train and only after it had spent its fury did it return to the forest.
Three hours later, the elephant returned to the tracks, forcing another passenger train to stop. This time, it only watched the train, whose engine driver made no attempt to resume the journey. After about 20 minutes of this tense standoff, the elephant trundled into the foliage.
There’s history here. Since the metre-gauge tracks on the 168 km rail route along the area were converted to broad gauge in 2003—allowing trains to move faster—more than 30 elephants have been killed on the tracks. “This was clearly a revenge attack,” says Tapan Das, Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife). “But it only attacked the first train when it started moving and didn’t attack the second train. This shows that the elephant was only interested in forcing the trains to stop. It was trying to send out a message, a warning perhaps, to the trains.”
The man-elephant conflict and resultant mortality rate has been on the rise not just in Bengal, but also states like Assam, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. “Elephants have identified trains as their enemies, and, if more elephants continue to die on the tracks, there will be repeats of such incidents,” says Animesh, a wildlife expert.