Ranchi: As many as 103 elephants have died in Jharkhand since 2001. Many of the unsuspecting jumbos were run over by fast trains or struck down by high voltage wires even as poachers and villagers also posed a threat.
On March 15, two elephants were electrocuted in Nimidih village in Khuti district. A herd of elephants had come down from the hilly areas of neighbouring Seraikela Kharsawa district. One of the elephants hit an electric pole and the high voltage wire fell on two pachyderms that died on the spot.
The Nimidih incident is not an isolated case. As per data made available by forest department officials, as many as 103 elephants have died in Jharkhand in the last nine years.
The maximum number of deaths have taken place due to electrocution, while many jumbos have been run over by trains. As many as 26 pachyderms have died due to electrocution and 16 elephants were killed in train accidents.
Poaching caused 11 elephant deaths and four died due to poisoning by villagers. Two rampaging elephants were declared rogue by the forest department and shot dead, 36 deaths were due to natural causes and the remaining due to other causes.
The Jharkhand forest department has taken up the issue with both the railways and the Jharkhand State Electricity Board (JSEB) officials.
The railway authorities have agreed to the proposal of the state forest department but JSEB has yet to take necessary steps.
"Railway authorities agreed to control the speed of trains in the Palamau region which has yielded positive results. The Jharkhand forest department and railway authorities have decided to fence around 9.72 km of railway tracks from Manoharpur to Goerlkero railway station. Both railway and the state government will share the cost 50:50," Chief Conservator of Forest (Jharkhand) SK Sharma said.
"The fencing will cost Rs.1.66 crore and the Jharkhand forest department has submitted Rs.85 lakh to the railways to complete the work. Floodlights will also be installed to keep the elephants away," Sharma said.
According to a forest official, over a dozen letters have been written to the JSEB to improve the wiring system to avoid elephant casualties.
"On several occasions we have requested the JSEB to maintain the standard height of wires in forest and hilly areas. The height of poles is decided according to the voltage - but this is hardly maintained. On top of the hill the electric wire height is so low that the elephants touch them with their trunks leading to their death," Sharma added.
JSEB officials, however, blame illegal connections and hooks put up by people to tap electricity which loosens the wires.
"Usually the pole height is maintained as per guidelines but the hooks loosen the wires in both urban and forest areas. Unless hooking is prevented, it will be difficult to maintain the wire height as per specification," an electricity board official said.
The elephant population in Jharkhand declined to 624 in the 2007 census from 722 in 2005.