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Rescuers work to get a baby elephant back on her feet after a train collision that killed her mother

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New Delhi — Doctors at India’s first-ever elephant hospital are using every method at their disposal, from laser stimulation to ayurvedic massage and physiotherapy, to try to get a baby elephant back on her feet after she was struck by a train. It has been an uphill battle so far, and far from being a rare tragedy, the little elephant’s story is all too common in India.

NOTE: This article includes images of dead and injured animals that some readers may find disturbing.

The 9-month-old elephant, which rescuers have named Bani (Mother Earth), was hit by a speeding train near Corbett National Park in northern India in mid-December, leaving her seriously injured and paralyzed. Bani’s mother, who was pregnant at the time, died in the same accident.

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A veterinary worker at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, northern India, feeds Bani, a 9-month-old female elephant injured in a train strike.

Courtesy of Wildlife SOS


Wildlife authorities treated Bani for hip and spine injuries at a local facility for more than a month, but she showed no improvement. In early February, she was moved to the city of Mathura for treatment at India’s first veterinary hospital exclusively for elephants, run by the conservation organization Wildlife SOS.

Veterinarians at the hospital told CBS News there’s been some improvement in her condition, but they’re finding it challenging to pinpoint all of Bani’s fractures.

“We have taken multiple x-rays… but we could not see where exactly the bone breakages are,” Dr. A. Sha Arun, a senior veterinarian at the Wildlife SOS center told CBS News. “It’s a little challenging, because hip regions are bulky and not easy to penetrate with normal x-rays.”

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Veterinary workers at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Care and Conservation Center in Mathura, northern India, scan the hip of Bani, a 9-month-old elephant calf seriously injured by a train strike.

Courtesy of Wildlife SOS


Vets told CBS News that Bani had multiple wounds to her back and groin, which have continued healing slowly.

“Initially we suspected a spinal injury, but the movement in her tail, normal digestion and body functions indicate that her body is responding to treatment,” said Dr. Ilayaraja S.

With the advanced treatment and multiple therapies the hospital has been able to provide, Bani has regained the use of her front legs. But her hind legs remain a cause for concern. Arun said it could take Bani up to three months to get back on her feet, and that’s assuming the treatment keeps going well.

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Workers at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, northern India, help rescued elephant Bani to stand with the aid of a hoist.  

Courtesy of Wildlife SOS


Scientists consider elephants one of the most emotionally advanced species, and the vets believe the violent death of Bani’s mother in the train crash is likely having some psychological impact, and possible slowing her physical recovery. But they have been encouraged as she’s started becoming more playful with her caregivers, holding their hands with her trunk, eating well and responding to treatment.

India’s elephant vs. train problem

The story of Bani and her mother is not a rare one in India, which is home to more than 20,000 wild elephants, or about 60% of the overall wild Asian elephant population.

In November 2023, three elephants were killed by a train in eastern India’s West Bengal state. In August, a pregnant elephant and two others were killed by another train in the same region.

On an average, 20 elephants are killed in train accidents every year, according to Indian government data. The deaths usually happen when elephants cross railway lines that run through their habitats.

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Indian villagers gather near the carcasses of elephants killed by a train near the forests of Marghat, in West Bengal state, in a May 30, 2013 file photo.

AFP via Getty


Conservationists argue train tracks shouldn’t even exist in wildlife corridors, and they say India’s ever-expanding railway network overlooks the price wildlife is paying for transport connectivity in the world’s most populous nation.

“It’s a line of bloodshed,” conservationist Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, told CBS News, referring to the tracks that run through India’s 150 elephant corridors.

The government has ordered trains passing through wildlife corridors to reduce their speed to prevent collisions with elephants, but Satyanarayan said train operators often ignore the order.

CBS News sought comment for this story from national operator Indian Railways, but received no response by the time of publication.

“The government should build elevated tracks for trains passing through wildlife corridors and make use of technologies like AI-powered alert systems to prevent such accidents,” Satyanarayan told CBS News.

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An elephant injured by a passenger train as it crossed railway tracks at Dayna village is seen in a field in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal state, India, in a Sept. 27, 2019 file photo.

STR/AFP/Getty


Last week, the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu became the first to launch an artificial intelligence and machine learning-enabled surveillance system to help prevent elephant deaths on railway tracks.

India has lost about 200 elephants over the last decade to train accidents alone, and that’s in addition to high number of deaths from poaching and accidental electrocutions.

The domestic population of elephants, which are India’s national heritage animal, has dropped dramatically over the last century from 1 million to the current 20,000. That’s ringing alarm bells over the wider biodiversity of India’s forests, as elephants play a crucial role in ecosystems and food chains.

“They are called the farmers of the forest,” said Satyaranayan. “Loss of elephants will eventually affect everything, from agriculture to livelihoods.” 

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