A similar mechanism is in use at Anamalai Tiger Reserve in Valparai

Forest Department is mulling a proposal to go in for solar powered warning systems in conflict prone areas to alert the people about the movement of elephants and their straying into human habitations.

Coimbatore Forest Division spread over 694 sq km in six ranges has closer to 75 villages and 315 km of the forest boundary being prone to man-animal conflict. In Coimbatore division, straying of elephants into human habitations either due to fragmentation of the corridor or in search of food and water was on the rise.

District Forest Officer V. Thirunavukkarasu said that to avert the conflict situation, Department was taking various measures.

Water holes and fodder banks are being created to prevent elephants straying into human settlements and farmers are advised to avoid crops such as maize, plantains and sugarcane along the forest boundaries. In addition efforts are also on to procure lands and remove the obstructions to restore the elephant corridor. These are long-term measures.

In the short term, two kumki (tamed/trained) elephants Nanjan and Pari are deployed at Chadivayal and are brought to the conflict pocket for chasing the herd back.

To reduce the loss of human lives and to alert the people in advance, the Department is now mulling a proposal to go in for a solar powered gadget that would sound advance warning.

Already, a similar mechanism was used by the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in Valparai and the gadget was brought in by Nature Conservation Foundation.

Mr. Thirunavukkarasu said that the same was also being explored and with improvements it could be tried in Coimbatore as directed by Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore Circle, V.T. Kandasamy.

In addition, another NGO has come forward with a prototype of a similar warning system and improvements in the same had been suggested. The system will be solar powered and would be mounted in prominent places on high rise buildings along the conflict prone pocket.

The system would emit light for visibility at night besides a pre-recorded audio message cautioning people about the movement of elephants.

The system could be activated by sending an SMS to the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card fixed in the machine which will trigger the warning system on receipt of an SMS.

The system will be calibrated to identify, recognise SMS from pre-determined set of four or five mobile numbers. The access to trigger the system will be with the mobile numbers of forest officials and village heads.

Anti-depredation and anti-poaching watchers and forest personnel will keep monitoring the movement of lone elephants or herds and would send an SMS to the system. In addition, the SMS sent by the forest officials or village head or his representatives could be circulated to the rest of the villagers by way of group SMS for dissemination of the information at a faster pace. The system is likely to be in place within the next three to four months, before the peak summer season when conflict situation escalates.

Considering the number of gadgets to be procured and the requirement in Coimbatore Division especially for Coimbatore, Booluvampatti, Periyanaickenpalayam and Karamadi and Mettuppalayam ranges, the bulk procurement might help in bringing down the cost, Mr.Thirunavukkarasu said.

He also added that a 24-hour centralised control room with a toll-free number to receive phone calls from public on elephant movement is also on the cards. The gadget could even be mounted on the seven to eight watch towers of the Department put up as part of anti-poaching and forest fire prevention initiatives.