Jalpaiguri: When two baby elephants got trapped on a rail track here, more pachyderms rushed in to help - but little did they know that a speeding goods train would mow down seven of the herd. It was a tragic turn of events that left even tough forest officials in mourning Thursday.
That was not the end. Soon after, another herd of elephants descended on the spot and stood guard over the dead, say forest officials. The incident took place Wednesday night near Binnaguri in Jalpaiguri district.
"Five elephants were killed on the spot Wednesday night while two others succumbed to their injuries Thursday morning. Among the seven dead elephants, three were babies and three were females," said Sunita Ghatak, Jalpaiguri divisional forest officer.
"A herd of elephants was crossing the railway tracks while going from Moraghat forest to Diana forest when two baby elephants got trapped in the tracks.
"When other elephants came to the rescue of the baby elephants, a goods train which was passing through at that time hit them, killing five elephants on the spot and injuring three."
Two of the injured animals died Thursday morning.
"Hearing the trumpeting of the injured elephants, divisional forest officer Kalyan Das along with other forest officials rushed to the spot," said Ghatak.
Movement of trains on the track, which connects New Jalpaiguri with Assam in North Eastern Fronteir Railway (NFR), was suspended till Thursday morning as another herd of elephants stood guard over the dead and injured elephants, she said.
Three months ago, another elephant was run over and killed by a train near the same spot.
"This railway route was recently converted into broad gauge from meter gauge. As this part of the forest area was not considered an elephant corridor, the movement of trains was not restricted," said B.K. Sudh, conservator of Forest (Wildlife) North Bengal region.
Terming the killing of seven elephants as a most tragic incident, Sudh said: "The movements of elephants has increased in the area, with an increase in their population.
"We would request the railways to restrict the train movement along this route. The area will also be considered an elephant corridor."
The forest department has lodged a complaint against the railways, including the driver of the goods train, Sambhu Charan Sarkar, said Sudh.
Senior railway officials also visited the spot and said they would discuss ways to avoid such incidents in a review meeting with forest officials likely next month.