Man-animal conflict is on the rise in many parts of the world. This is due to human beings encroaching on forest lands as well as the lack of properly planned animal corridors. Valparai, a region in South India, is surrounded by forests and acres of tea estates.
However, animals like elephants and even leopards have to walk through tea estates to get from one part of the forest to another. On their way they sometimes encounter humans and it often ends badly for the people. Over the past few years there have been numerous reports of leopard maulings and elephant attacks.
Now an Indian scientist from the Nature Conservation Foundaiton (NCF) has spearheaded a project to manage human-elephant conflict in this part of South India. Anand Kumar, who recently won the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation award, came up with a rather elegant solution to this problem. The Hindu has quoted Anand saying: “We have to find ways to strike a balance between the people and the elephants.”
Anand’s elephant information network lets people know where and when there is elephant movement. He has set up a team of seven men in Valparai who track elephants during the day. “Every evening, the team sends information on the whereabouts of elephants to a local TV channel. This is displayed in the form of flash news every day after 4 p.m.,” explains Anand.
He is also using the power of mobile networking and sending bulk text messages to the people of Valparai. NCF has a record of nearly 2,500 people in the area and SMSs are sent to those who are present within a two kilometer radius of elephant movement.
Anand explains: “The SMS, sent in Tamil and English to people working in the plantations, will tell you where exactly elephants are at that point of time. Plantation companies and the ground staff of the Forest Department have been very supportive. We have people calling us regularly to inform us of elephant activity that they know of.”
The team has also come up with a gadget that flashes red LED lights to ward off elephants. This instrument has been installed in 22 placed in Valparai. To trigger this visual signal, one has to simply give a missed-call to the number. In case of elephant movement, volunteers in the area dial the number of the indicator in the area, it begins flashing and people know to steer clear.
The next step for Anand is getting women’s groups and colleges involved in awareness activities. He says that the people have responded positively to this project as it gives them a sense of security to know where the elephants are. Often the aftermath of such conflict results in a drastic step-back for conservation efforts. Many people have also resorted to killing the animal in many instances in the past. This is not only illegal but it also results in animosity towards animals and wildlife protection.
This network approach to elephant monitoring is conducive to a peaceful co-existence between elephants and man. People in the area can now go to work without fear of attacks and children can attend school without worry. Now if only something similar can be created for leopards.
Image Credit: Top Right – Tea Estates in Valparai, Akhila Vijayaraghavan © Bottom Left – Elephants, Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©