RECENTLY there were reports in the media on the construction of culverts for animal crossings along the 665km East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) that will link Port Klang with Kota Bharu.

It is important to ensure that the nation’s wildlife is spared from further decimation, especially through accidents on roads and railways.

The ECRL passes through sensitive wildlife terrain in Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan and serious efforts must be undertaken to ensure that the animals can cross to either side of the tracks without risking their lives.

However, it remains to be seen whether the underpass culverts on the ECRL will be effective.

If the ongoing construction of culverts or underpasses is not effective, then animals such as elephants, tigers and seladang (bison) may resort to crossing the tracks and run the risk of not only accidents but also electrocution.

In fact, even people prefer to dash across the roads instead of using underpasses or overhead pedestrian bridges, what more animals.

Overpass crossings are better, more inviting and less forbidding to the animals, especially elephants, tigers and leopards, seladang and others as the animals are able to feel that this is a continuation or a corridor to their habitat, and therefore will cross the animal bridge.

Underpasses are more onerous and costly to maintain and manage in the long term

They could be dark like tunnels and water could stagnate in them during the rainy spells.

The East Coast experiences seasonal downpours and the culverts could be flooded or silted.

Furthermore, some animals could be intimidated by the tunnel-like appearance and also fear being ambushed by tigers and leopards, and will avoid these track crossings.

Under-passes could turn out to be ambush points for tigers to prey on deer, wild boar, tapir, young elephants and seladang calves.

The broader overpasses are relatively safer and better in all aspects.

This is the reason why the recently opened Delhi-Mumbai Expressway has animal bridges (overpasses) measuring 500 metres wide each, especially in the tiger-sensitive areas of Ranthambhore and Mukundra in Rajasthan.

From experience and experiments, it has been found that animals, large and small, prefer the broad overpasses although they are costlier to build but there is no need for maintenance.

India’s wildlife has had a marked increase in numbers due to positive measures such as this by the government.

The latest Bengal tiger population in India stands at about 3,167.

Malaysia’s tiger population is low, with only about 150, and needs to be revived and stabilised to about 300 tigers.

This is good enough for the peninsula, which has been much developed.

Having more elephants and carnivores such as tigers and leopards will result in an unending human-wildlife conflict and create a negative impact on the conservation and protection of wildlife.

It is already a major problem in India, where wildlife causes damage and destruction to agricultural and residential areas but the government’s compensation scheme has acted as a mitigating factor.

There has been an increase in the number of “tiger widows”, whose husbands have been killed by tigers.

The ferocious Bengal tiger in the Sunderbans is known to swim across rivers at night and carry off men sleeping in their fishing boats.

The elephants are equally destructive, raiding tea plantations and farms, stopping lorries and pulling out bundles of sugar cane, and sometimes killing people.

The impact of the ECRL on the surrounding wildlife sanctuaries must be studied in detail and changes made before it is too late.

There have been numerous cost reduction agreements with successive governments in the last few years and it is possible that the wildlife-friendly overpasses had to be sacrificed to reduce the total cost of the ECRL.

I suggest that the issue of animal crossings, both underpasses and overpasses, be considered in-depth, especially from the research done in India and China, where major road and rail infrastructural developments have taken place in the last 20 years.

The brand-new ECRL could benefit from their experience and save our depleting wildlife.

The number of animals killed on the tracks should be counted monthly and preventive measures should be taken, although some kills would be unavoidable.

The Wildlife Department must be actively involved in the management of wildlife along the ECRL and the lower the accident rate the better.

The trains are expected to travel at speeds of about 160km/h and train speeds need to be lowered in areas frequented by wildlife, especially at night.

With the latest night vision technology and other developments, the train operator should be able to spot any single animal or herd on the track a good distance away and slow the train to avoid killing them.

I hope the ECRL is being constructed in a straight path as much as possible, which will enable wildlife to be spotted a safe distance away and avoid any accidents or kills.

The ECRL will be completed in 2026 and it has been predicted to be unprofitable for quite some time before a possible turnaround later.

However, it will certainly be a major tourist draw as locals and foreigners would be delighted to travel through a vast expanse of greenery and beautiful landscapes.

The East Coast states could see an exponential increase in tourism activities upon completion of the ECRL.

In this regard, the 665km ECRL will be one of the most scenic in the world, passing through hundreds of kilometres of a pristine environment.

The authorities could make the ECRL even more attractive by planting flowering trees in the railway reserve at a safe distance from either side of the tracks.

During the flowering season, the scenery will be a sight to behold and have a “Sakura” effect.

Fruiting trees should be totally avoided as they will attract birds, monkeys, squirrels and others which will run the risk of electrocution when crossing the overhead electric cables.