More than half of the world’s roughly 50,000 Asian elephants, which are considered an endangered species, live in India. A recent study identified a dip in the country’s elephant population, though scientists disagree over whether there are actually fewer elephants or if their numbers are simply being counted more precisely.
In a letter to India’s railways minister this year, a group of wildlife activists urged the government to take action in areas with large elephant populations, for instance by building underpasses beneath railway lines for the animals, and instructing passengers not to throw food out of windows.
The letter was sent about two weeks before a deadly accident in February, when a passenger train rammed into a herd of elephants in northeastern India, killing five. Indian forestry officials said the driver was worried about being late and had ignored warnings to slow down.
After a train killed five elephants in Odisha in 2012, Mr. Mohanty, the wildlife expert, pushed for reducing speed limits in areas where elephants congregate.
The new measures seemed to work, Mr. Mohanty said, until the accident on Monday. Even after hitting the elephants, the driver of the train did not stop, he said.
“The railways are under pressure to keep time routes,” he said. “They say to slow down, it will eat into our timing and we’ll lose our revenue. We’ve been telling them that this is a very small price to pay to protect India’s wildlife.”