Of elephants and bees: How an innovative railwayman curbed tusker deaths on tracks

New Delhi: There are 101 Elephants Corridors – the routes herds of wild tuskers take while moving from one place to another – in the country. And 23 of them are in the north-east. Many of these corridors criss-cross the railway tracks. From 2013 to 2016, as many as 55 elephants lost their lives after they were hit by trains within the jurisdiction of NE Frontier Railway.

Lavkesh Kumar took over as DRM of the Rangia Division of the NE Frontier Railway in the latter half of 2017. He was holding a meeting of railway officials to discuss the issue of elephants deaths on tracks when an official began tapping the table with his hands. The sound irritated the DRM to no end. He admonished the officer and the tapping stopped. And then, an idea struck him.

Buzzing bees

He asked his men to enquire from the foresters whether there was any sound that irritates elephants. The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Tejpur was contacted and he told the railwaymen that elephants keep away from beehives. “Probably, they don’t like the sound of buzzing bees,” the DFO said.

Lavkesh Kumar decided to test the hypothesis. The sound of buzzing bees was downloaded from the Internet and recorded on a CD. Two speakers were mounted a jeep and the DRM set off for the forests. After a two-day search, they sighted a herd of elephants. Immediately, the speakers were turned on and sound of buzzing bees filled the air. The elephants stopped in their tracks. But still, the team was not sure whether they had stopped due to the sound or for some other reason.

Elephants disappear into woods

And so, taking considerable risk, the DRM asked the driver to start moving the vehicle towards the herd. As the vehicle went closer, the sound grew louder for the elephants. Soon, they took to their heels and disappeared into the woods.


One of the B-Plan equipment on railway tracks in Rangia Division of NE Frontier Railway

Convinced that the stratagem would work, the DRM got contraptions to play the sound installed at 30 points on the tracks passing through the elephant corridors. The equipment, which the DRM named B-Plan, cost Rs 1,600 apiece. The railwaymen were instructed to play them when a train was passing and there were reports of an elephant herd being close by. “If we would play it continuously, the elephants would get used to it,” an official explained.

The innovation cut the number of elephants deaths by one-half. In the one year since the installation of B-Plan, only six elephants were hit by trains.

(Story: Sharad Pandey)