Four elephants killed by train in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan children look at the body of an elephant at Cheddikulam on Aug 17, 2016, after it was hit by a train.
Sri Lankan children look at the body of an elephant at Cheddikulam on Aug 17, 2016, after it was hit by a train.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - A passenger train hit and killed an elephant and three calves in northern Sri Lanka on Wednesday (Aug 17), in the latest deadly accident involving the venerated animals.

The herd was walking across a newly upgraded railway line that runs through a jungle area when the accident occurred at Cheddikulam, about 260km north of Colombo.

"One of the baby elephants was dragged about 300m along the track after being hit," a local police official told AFP, adding that it was thought to be Sri Lanka's worst accident involving the animals. No passengers were injured in the collision.

Although elephants are considered sacred in Sri Lanka and are legally protected, nearly 200 are killed every year, many by farmers after the animals stray onto their land.

Marauding elephants also claim the lives of about 50 people annually, mostly by trampling through villages built near their habitats.

In 2011, three baby elephants were killed by a passenger train along the same track in a forest area about 150km north of Colombo.

In May this year, four elephants including two calves were killed by lightning in the country's north.

Sri Lanka's elephant population has dwindled to just over 7,000, according to the latest census, down from an estimated 12,000 in 1900.