Green Minute News

The re-start of mining in Keonjhar district, Odisha, India has claimed the life of three elephants where already the population of jumbos is on a declining trend in the last two decades. In a horrendous accident on Thursday, three elephants were killed by a speeding truck on NH-20 where thousands of trucks ply daily transporting iron ore in the night.

The killings took place at 2 am when a herd of 10 comprising adults, sub-adults and calves were crossing this busy highway from the nearby forest area. Local witnesses told Green Minute that out of this, three were brutally killed when they were hit by a truck maybe, when trying to overtake the long line of vehicles. On this section of NH-20, one often sees herds of elephants crossing the road as it is near Balijodi falling under the Ghatagaon Reserve Forests.

Of the three elephants, a mother aged around 16 and her calf were killed on the spot.  Another female was seriously injured which later succumbed to her injuries. Senior officials of the Odisha forest department including Santosh Joshi, District Forest Officer (DFO) rushed to the spot and sent the injured jumbo for treatment. But alas! It could not be saved.

With the mining of iron ore re-starting only 2-3 months back and the ore being transported on the highway rather than railways,NH-20 has become a nightmare for both wildlife and people. As it is railway tracks in Odisha are considered a death trap for elephants, so there seems to be no alternative,  activists say.

This is the first time, pachyderms have been killed on NH-20 as ‘Elephant Herds’ here have not been tracked unlike other districts in Odisha where they are tracked and information given on their movement, says Biswajit Mohanty, former member of National Board of Wildlife and Secretary, Wildlife Society of Odisha.

Mohanty further adds, “Since mining re-started, thousands of trucks have been plying on this highway during the night with no speed humps being installed as it is a national highway. There is only one crossing for the jumbos – an underpass is there, just one kilometer from the accident spot. This is not enough on a 150 kilometer stretch. Another 15-20 under passes are needed and even then one cannot expect the elephants to use them always.”

It is ironical that many times the elephants are either chased away by people from villages or driven away by forest officials during conflict situations and they have no  place to go. Further, the population of elephants in Keonjhar district has already declined from 100 to a mere 30 now due to continuing conflict, lack of tracking and supervision by forest department. Vanishing forests, disturbance to their habitat and now iron ore mining is likely to drive the final nail in the coffin of elephants.

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