Al to protect Elephants

Al to protect Elephants Source: Himalayan News Chronicle

Deaths of elephants, sometimes preg- nant ones and calves on railway tracks due to collisions with speeding trains are reported from time to time. This is the single most cause of elephant's unnatural deaths in the wild in India after electrocution and highest in Eastern Himalayas. To prevent such ghastly deaths of the giant animals, the railways have experimented with vari- ous methods starting from Chilli bombs to electric fencing to honey bee sounds along the tracks.

All these have reduced the causality but could not prevent the deaths. Now an Al-based surveillance mechanism in 11 elephant corridors in the North East has helped eliminate elephant deaths totally due to collisions    with    trains. The Northeast Frontier Railway now plans to introduce the system across the zone, according to official sources.

They said the optical fibre cable (OFC) that the railways have laid beneath the tracks for tele-communication and sig- nalling purposes comes in handy for the implementation of intrusion detec-tion systems. The system has sounded nearly ten thousand alerts, or an aver- age 41 alerts daily avoiding many pos- sible jumbo deaths during December to July this year.

“the railways have laid beneath the tracks for tele-com- munication and sig- nalling purposes comes in handy for the implementation of intrusion detec- tion systems”

"Every time an elephant steps on to the track, the system gen- erates an alert to the train controller, station master, train drivers and other stakeholders who take precautionarymeasures to stop the imminent danger, "Sabyasachi De, Chief Public Relations Officer of NFR, said. The system is able to detect and locate moving up to five metres from the fibre optical cable. Official data shows that on an average 20 elephants die due to train collisions in the country every year and a majori- ty of these accidents take place in the North East Frontier Railway.

This does not take into account the unknown number of elephants injured and later dying in forests. There are 80 such ele- phant corridors in the North East region and considering the 100 per cent suc- cess rate of IDS, the NF railway has decided to introduce it on all other cor- ridors as well and the Railway has sanctioned Rs 77 crore for it. Double the number of elephants die in train accidents than even poaching. Earlier, getting the idea from African countries, Chilli bombs or bricks were used to stop elephants from railway crossings. These are made by mixing dungs and using oil and chilli powder.

The thick paste which is then molded into bricks or balls dried and burnt like ordinary bricks. Chilli strings are made by soaking strings in a mixture of used oil and chilli for days and then tying them on the periphery of the fields or on Pathways often used by the animals to access. The smell of chilli drives away elephants, saving their lives. There was also fencing on the known path- ways but that did not deter since the animals were used for ages in the deep jungle and tracks were laid much later.

Similarly using honey bee sounds to distract elephants from tracks did not work either. The system known as "Plan Bee" simply downloads the piping sound of honey bees from the internet and plays on amplifiers on vulnerable tracks. This sound could not prevent elephant accidents totally. Other steps like speed restrictions, provision of sig- nage boards warning loco pilots, clear- ance of and construction of underpass- es and ramps for movement of ele- phants at identified locations also helped but has not stopped the acci- dents    totally.

India is home to about 29,964 ele- phants which is more than 60 percent of the world's wild Asiatic elephant pop- ulation and North East India has more than one third of the total elephants in the country. Incidentally, the most famous elephant of the world named "Jumbo" died after being hit by a train in St. Thomas while crisscrossing North America in 1885.