Bengal: Railways to play buzz of honeybees to keep elephants away from killer tracks

The devices were installed in the second half of February. The step follows a similar experiment in Assam.

kolkata Updated: Mar 07, 2018 09:53 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times
Representational picture. The 168-km Alipurduar-New Jalpaiguri rail track has mowed down more than 65 elephants since 2004.(HT Photo)

Plagued by the persistent problem of elephants being mowed down by speeding trains, the railways have sought help from one of the smallest of insects -- honey bees -- to keep away the largest land animal from its tracks in north Bengal.

The NFR implemented the idea in West Bengal after a similar experiment in Rangiya division of Assam in September.

The Alipurduar division of the North East Frontier Railway (NFR) has installed devices that amplify the buzz of swarming honeybees, a sound that scares away elephants, at two points where the possibility of elephants crossing the tracks is maximum.

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These tracks have turned out to be a killer zone for the animals. More than 65 elephants have been mowed down by speeding trains along the 168-km Alipurduar-New Jalpaiguri railway since 2004. The route that was converted to broad gauge from metre gauge that year passes through national parks, wild life sanctuaries and reserved forests having numerous elephants’ corridors.

One of the points in north Bengal where the device has been installed. (HT Photo)

“Two weeks ago we have installed the devices at railway gate number 126 between Kalchini and Rajabhatkhawa in Alipurduar district and gate number 162 between Chalsa and Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri district,” said Chandravir Raman, divisional railway manager.

On February 4, an elephant was killed by a speeding train inside Chapramari Wild Life Sanctuary between Nagrakata and Chalsa railway stations.

“Once the gatemen sees elephants near the tracks, they would switch on the device that would play the sound of these insects. It will scare away the animals,” said Chandravir Raman, divisional railway officer, Alipurduar.

Read: ‘Plan bee’ keeps elephants off railway tracks in Assam

The development came about a month after Bengal forest minister Binay Krishna Barman accused the railways of not adhering to the Supreme Court’s interim order not to ply goods trains at night along Alipurduar-New Jalpaiguri route and check speed limit of the passenger trains near elephants’ corridors.

“We suggested the railways should construct under passes and slopes near the railway track passing through elephants’ corridors, but they did nothing,” Barman said.

There are 27 elephant corridors under the NFR in north Bengal, parts of eastern Bihar and the North East.

“The humming of bees is downloaded from the Internet and played over an amplifier. It can scare elephants that are 600 metres away,” said Pranab Jyoti Sharma, chief public relation officer, NFR.

Read: Tiger still eluding trap, wild elephants add to panic in Bengal’s Lalgarh

Wildlife officials said elephants, despite their thick skin and size, are terrified of bees.

The device costs around Rs 2,000, said a railway officer.

In Assam the experiment was first conducted at a level crossing between Kamakhya and Azara railway stations near Guwahati in September.

However, there is a word of caution too. “One cannot use the sound of bees very frequently as the elephants may become immune to it,” said Raman.

First Published: Mar 07, 2018 09:53 IST