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US-based NGO extends support to mitigate man-elephant conflict in State

January 22, 2023 08:55 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:18 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

The EleSense device installed by the Vfaes along the rail line in West Bengal to save elephants from speeding trains.

The EleSense device installed by the Vfaes along the rail line in West Bengal to save elephants from speeding trains. | Photo Credit: TH

Even as the State has been finding it difficult to cope with the rising man-animal conflicts, a US-based NGO- Voice for Asian Elephants Society (VFAES)- has approached the State government with a solution to mitigate the impact of the man-elephant conflict in Kerala. The agency which piloted elephant-friendly fencing in West Bengal has extended support to the State to protect its vulnerable regions by fencing, and installing elephant sensors (EleSense) along treacherous rail routes that cut through the reserve forest to avoid accidents involving elephants.

Speaking to The Hindu, Sangita Iyer, founder of VFAES, who reached Thiruvananthapuram to meet the government representative here on Saturday, said electrocution of elephants and accidental death of tuskers on railway lines is one of the greatest threats faced by endangered elephants across India. “In West Bengal, we have launched the first phase of the project in Jalpaiguri district where we installed a 4-km fencing surrounding the farmland and homes in early 2022 with the support of government there.”

Though the tuskers are smart enough to bypass the traditional electric fencing by lifting the fence by its tusks which are non-conductors of electricity or destroying the fence by forcing trees on them, this flexible solar fencing will bounce back to its normal position each time when it is pulled or stretched and passes millisecond long zaps to the trunks of jumbos to scare them away. The entire cost of the project was borne by society.

It has also installed around 40 pairs of EleSense along a long stretch near a tea plantation that falls under the Northern Frontier Railway, Jalpaiguri Division of the West Bengal Forest Department, where elephants frequently move. The project fully funded by the Society uses innovative technology. The sensor-based early warning system is designed with siren, light and GPS/GSM modules by local tech experts familiar with the landscape.

The early warning sensor system alerts train drivers of elephant presence while alerting elephants too, helping prevent collisions and deaths on tracks. The sensor detects elephant presence up to 500 meters and triggers an alarm, and sends out an SMS message to the forest and railway authorities, which will be transmitted to the loco pilots giving them enough time to stop the train. The alarm system is also resistant to damage from the elements. “Both the system have yielded results and the society is looking for collaboration with various State governments. The discussion held with the Kerala Forest and Wildlife department secretary was fruitful and now we are looking for how this can be worked out in Kerala,” said Ms. Iyer.

Ms. Iyer, who is also an award-winning author, biologist and multiple award-winning wildlife filmmaker, said the VFAES has partnered with a grassroots non-profit organisation based in Kolkata, Nature Mates India, with technical design and support by Solitary Nature and Animal Protection (SNAP) Foundation to pilot an early warning system to alert train drivers of elephant presence.

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