A Simple Way to Deter Jumbos (Kochi, India)


Viju B, Times of India

Date Published


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The Gudrale tea estate valley in Munnar, which borders the Western Ghats, reports a high number of elephant infiltrations into non-forest areas, especially during night. These elephant herds go on a rampage destroying farmlands and houses and create havoc in the area posing a threat to the life and property of the local residents.

But last week, when an elephant herd entered a human habitation after sunset, a red light blinked. A few kilometres down the long-winding thickly wooded path, Ramesh, an auto driver who was taking a family to their home, got an SMS from the forest department that the route was not safe.

Soon a rapid response team from the state forest department reached the spot where the elephants were crossing the path at a languid pace. After the herd moved into the woods, the forest officials accompanied the auto for a few hundred metres to ensure they were out of the danger zone.

This was part of the initiatives undertaken by the state forest department to mitigate the man-animal conflict bordering the buffer zones of state’s forests.

The Munnar wildlife division has launched the pilot project called an ‘early elephant alert system’ that lights up the area using a high beam light and sends bulk SMSs to community members in the locality alerting them on the presence of elephants in non-forest areas and buffer zones.

For the pilot project, the state forest department has selected Gudrale tea estate valley, bordering the Western Ghats and installed a high beam red light based on GSM technology.

“The 362 community members staying here now calls a toll free number managed by the forest department and which in turn informs a core team consisting of four people, including one member from the rapid response force of the forest department,” said G Prasad, chief wildlife warden of Munnar circle.

The core team then checks the veracity of the alert and informs the control room. The control room will then send bulk SMSs to the affected community members. “On getting the SMS, a core team member, who is part of rapid response team, will be activated and he will manage the area to avoid man-animal conflict. At the same time the high beam will be activated by giving three missed calls by the forest department,” he said.

Senior forest officials said that this technology could be replicated in other eco-fragile areas and even used for alerting incidents like power failures and landslides in a particular locality.

Last year, over 150 wild elephants died due to various reasons like old age, hit and run accidents and electric shocks.

“The state forest department should also bring in measures to reduce the speed of the trains in wildlife corridor area. Recently two elephants died after they were hit by a train. The government should also undertake an audit of why so many wild elephants are dying and find a solution for the issue,” said secretary of Heritage Task Force V K Venkatachalam.

The state, though, boast of a healthy elephant population which increased from 5,135 in 2005 to 6,177 in 2012. The male to female ratio too has become almost level.