India’s train system, which dates back to colonial times, covers more than 41,000 miles. In the early 1990s it was converted from meter gauge to broad gauge, which allowed for increased train speeds through 20 of India’s 101 known elephant corridors — a deadly combination.
“You can look at it as a demographer or from an emotional viewpoint,” Raman Sukumar, an elephant ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science, told National Geographic. “Train accidents don’t make much difference in population. That’s a very dispassionate view. But look at the mascot of Indian Railways. It’s an elephant. The Railways cannot be killing their own mascot.”
The question remains among scientists, however, why elephants — which feature the largest brain of any land animal and three times the number of neurons as humans — would not move out of the way of an oncoming train. Most of the accidents happen at night, so it could be that the animals are blinded by the light and/or confused by the noise.
“It’s highly unlikely that they would get stuck in the tracks,” Sukumar told National Geographic. “It’s puzzling why this highly intelligent animal would wait on the tracks when it can even feel the vibration of the train’s movement.”