Fatal highway crossing for elephants in Odisha, 3 killed after bus, trucks ram into herd
Three elephants including a calf were killed after being hit by a bus and two iron ore-laden trucks in mineral-rich Keonjhar district in the intervening night of Wednesday-Thursday while crossing a National Highway in one of the first road kills in recent times.
“At around 2 am a herd of 10 elephants were crossing the national highway at Balijodi when they were hit by bus and two 16-wheeler trucks. Two elephants were killed on the spot while the third one died later this morning,” Divisional Forest Officer of Keonjhar, Santosh Joshi said.
“There was underpass for elephants less than a kilometre away. The elephants may have escaped death had they used it.”
The trucks were on their way to Ghatagon from Jajpur. One of the trucks skidded of the road after ramming the elephants and the driver and his helper were arrested while the driver of the second truck drove the vehicle away. The bus was found at its destination Barbil, 100 km site. The bus driver was also arrested.
Noted wildlife scientist and secretary of the NGO, Wildlife Society of Odisha, Biswajit Mohanty pointed out that while elephants were crossing national highways in other districts for quite some time, the state had only the one underpass (at Keonjhar) for elephants.
“Besides, how does the forest department expect the elephants to stick to the underpass and not take the highway? Building underpasses are not the solution. Rather, the department should have elephant trackers who can herd away the animals to safety. Now that the iron ore mines have reopened in Keonjhar, at least 4000 iron trucks traverse the highway every day. How will elephants survive if so many trucks zoom in and out?” asked Mohanty.
The scientist also pointed out that on the NH-55, there are elephant trackers who assist the animals to cross to the other side. “Why was the same process not followed in Keonjhar? After all, the death of the elephants in this road accident is a huge loss to our state’s natural heritage,” he said.
The DFO said the herd was divided into two groups – seven elephants were inside the forest while the rest were trying to cross the road.
Local people blocked movement of traffic on the highway demanding action against forest officials for not deploying elephant trackers on the stretch. Wildlife activists too alleged that the part of the national highway was also an elephant corridor and designated elephant trackers for specific locations should have been assigned.
Mohanty sought a probe into the incident and demanded that night movement of mineral laden trucks be banned from 9 pm to 6 am so that elephants can easily cross.
Officials said the death of three elephants took the toll of pachyderm fatalities to 27 since April 1. During the same period, 48 people have been killed by elephants in man-animal conflicts.