Forest Department deploys technology to help mitigate man-animal conflict

Prying eyes of technology reveal the tracks of an elephant deep inside the Siruvani forests in Palakkad, giving it no place to hide. With the Forest Department deploying information technology, anyone who has a computer with a data connection can track the movement of the elephant, relocated from Wayanad, where it gained notoriety for crop raids.

Visit and enter the user name, WWFI, and password, Ele2, to see what the elephant is up to in its new home — and how the department is trying to help mitigate man-animal conflict along the forests in the State using technology.

The male elephant without tusks (called makhna by veterinarians and mozha locally) had been raiding crops in areas bordering the forests of the Sulthan Bathery range. Its relocation was a mammoth operation carried out by 70 men and three kumkis (a Tamil name for trained captive elephants used for either taming captured wild elephants or warding off such elephants that raid human settlements) last Thursday. The radio collar fixed on the elephant now enables anyone to monitor its movement.

Chief Wildlife Warden V. Gopinathan told The Hindu that the department could keep track of the movement and behaviour of the animal for assessing if it was prone to return to human settlements. The animal seemed to be adapting well to the new location and had been remaining, and foraging, deep within the forests. The elephant, which had a malignant tumour under its belly, had been constantly raiding crops. A forest team, led by the forest veterinary officer Arun Zachariah, managed to tranquillise the animal and relocate it deep inside the forests. But the elephant returned and continued to raid crops.

It was again captured, treated for its festering tumour, radio-collared and again relocated. But within a few days, the elephant returned to raid crops. As conflict mounted, the department took a high-level decision to relocate it faraway. The radio collar, supplied by World Wildlife Fund-India, helped Dr. Zachariah trace the animal fast.

By 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, it was tranquillised. Then an earthmover did the job of creating a ramp. The kumki elephants helped put the animal into a lorry through the ramp. By 2.30 p.m., the lorry started on a 250-km journey and by 2 a.m. on Friday, the team with the elephant reached Siruvani, 30 km from human settlements, where it was given the antidote to the tranquilliser and relocated.

The radio collar enables anyone to see the location of the elephant on a website topographic map. The location is marked as a blue bubble. The bubbles appearing on the map show its location during a six-hour period and the exact time is given. Then click “submit” on a window that appears. It will open up the topographic map showing the location of the elephant as blue bubbles. On Sunday, while the elephant was close to the reservoir of the Siruvani dam in the morning, by afternoon, it moved quite a distance away. The bubble shows that the elephant foraged at one location for three hours before moving ahead.


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