A train in India has ploughed into a herd of elephants, killing five adults and two calves and injuring at least 10 others.
Officials said the crash, which occurred at dusk last night in the eastern Chapramari Forest, is the worst of its kind in recent memory.
Wildlife activists have hit out at transport ministers in the aftermath of the accident, blaming them for the unrestricted speed of trains in the area – a busy and well-known elephant corridor.
The passenger train was travelling at 80 kmph (50 mph) through the forest when it drove through a herd of 40 elephants crossing the tracks, West Bengal forestry minister Hiten Burman said.
“The herd scattered, but returned to the railway tracks and stood there for quite some time,” Mr Burman said.
The rest of the herd was driven away when forest guards and rail workers arrived at the scene, and the clean-up operation began.
Mr Burman said the railway authorities have repeatedly ignored requests from his department to have trains reduce their speeds inside the elephant corridor in Jalpaiguri district, about 670 km (415 miles) from Kolkata, the state capital.
Dozens of elephants have died in recent years after being struck while crossing railroad tracks that run through India's national parks and forests. Last December, a train killed five elephants in neighbouring Orissa state.
“It is an irony that elephants are being killed by speeding trains in north Bengal on regular intervals, even though it has been declared as the heritage animal in India and an elephant cub is the mascot of Indian Railways,” said Animesh Basu, a wildlife activist and coordinator of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.
Basu, who blamed unrestricted movement of trains for the accident, said at least 50 elephants have been killed by trains since 2004 in West Bengal state.
India's wild elephant population was recently estimated at about 26,000.
Additional reporting by the Associated PressReuse content