NEW DELHI — A speeding freight train traveling through eastern India on Monday barreled into a herd of elephants as they were crossing railroad tracks, killing a calf and three adult animals, an official said.
The official, Biswajit Mohanty, a wildlife expert in Odisha State, where the accident occurred, said the train was traveling at 75 miles an hour in a protected stretch of forest near the village of Teladihi around 3:30 a.m. when it struck a bull elephant, two females and a calf. The speed limit there is around 20 miles an hour, he said by telephone.
“At such a high speed, there’s no chance the elephants would have survived,” Mr. Mohanty said, adding that he had called for an investigation. “This is a big violation.”
Hundreds of elephants have been killed in India over the past 20 years, and deaths attributed to trains appear to be on the rise.
As mining and development projects shrink the country’s forests, Indian wildlife experts say, elephants in search of food have been forced to wander farther from their natural habitats.
More than half of the world’s roughly 50,000 Asian elephants, which are considered an endangered species, live in India. A recent study identified a dip in the country’s elephant population, though scientists disagree over whether there are actually fewer elephants or if their numbers are simply being counted more precisely.
In a letter to India’s railways minister this year, a group of wildlife activists urged the government to take action in areas with large elephant populations, for instance by building underpasses beneath railway lines for the animals, and instructing passengers not to throw food out of windows.
The letter was sent about two weeks before a deadly accident in February, when a passenger train rammed into a herd of elephants in northeastern India, killing five. Indian forestry officials said the driver was worried about being late and had ignored warnings to slow down.
After a train killed five elephants in Odisha in 2012, Mr. Mohanty, the wildlife expert, pushed for reducing speed limits in areas where elephants congregate.
The new measures seemed to work, Mr. Mohanty said, until the accident on Monday. Even after hitting the elephants, the driver of the train did not stop, he said.
“The railways are under pressure to keep time routes,” he said. “They say to slow down, it will eat into our timing and we’ll lose our revenue. We’ve been telling them that this is