Tamil Nadu Forest officials planning to use drones to scare away elephants

The Union Forest Ministry had provided five drones to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, which are being used to help reduce instances of man-animal conflicts that are becoming increasingly frequent.

Published: 08th June 2017 04:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th June 2017 04:48 AM   |  A+A-

An aggressive mother elephant chasing forest officials near Mangarai in Anaikatti Forest on Wednessday | A RAJA CHIDAMBARAM

Express News Service

CHENNAI: After using them for spotting and tracking animals, forest department officials in Tamil Nadu are considering another use with sophisticated drones that they have acquired from the Centre: use their buzz to irritate and repel elephants, and even fix loudspeakers on them to blare roars of predators.

The Union Environment and Forest Ministry had provided five drones to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, which are being used to help reduce instances of man-animal conflicts that are becoming increasingly frequent.

“Drones emit a bee-like buzz that elephants have an aversion to. We’re going to make use of this to contain these animals within their territories,” said Senthil Kumar, a ranger from Madukkarai forest where man-animal conflicts are reported often.

That, however, is only the beginning of the plan. “We’re thinking of attaching loudspeakers to the drones and blare the roar of predators to scare animals away,” said principal chief conservator of forests (Protection and Vigilance) P Jagadeesh.

“When elephants move out of a forest in a herd, it’s hard to stop them from advancing. This technology may come in handy,” he noted, adding that similar techniques have worked in African forests. The project is yet to be tested in Tamil Nadu, though.

Elephants dislike sounds that drones make. But they may not be able to attack them easily: their eyes are placed on either side, limiting peripheral vision; their necks are still, so they won’t be able to easily attack these flying objects.

Innovative attempts aside, drones have added much needed surveillance and tracking abilities that are essential when dealing with man-animal conflicts. Whenever elephants stray into human habitations, forest officials organise a large number of people and use firecrackers and drums to chase the animals back into the forest. But this often leads to injuries, and even fatality in some cases.

“With this, when we spot animals lurking a few kilometres from villages, we track their movements and even chase them away from human habitation,” the ranger said.

Even animals hiding behind bushes or buildings can be monitored so closely that it is possible to predict their movement better, he added.

This is important in places like Madukkarai, near Coimbatore, where animals cross forest borders at least 260 days a year.

Pointing out that more and more tigers and panthers have become man-eaters recently, Jagadeesh said drones would help track nocturnal animals at night, as they are fitted with thermal cameras suited for night vision.

Apart from these defensive measures, drones will also help in taking proactive measures. For instance, when animals from a particular zone of the forest tend to enter villages, the landscape can be observed with a bird’s eye view to spot factors such as dried waterholes, which force animals to leave the place.
Compensating these factors would lessen chances of animals moving out of their territory, and thereby the man-animal conflicts as well, said the official.

These drones have been deployed in five forest ranges: Gudalur, Coimbatore, Hosur, Kodaikanal and Tirunelveli. They will be shared by neighbouring forest ranges like Mudumalai, Satyamangalam, Madukkarai and Mettupalyam.
The various drone operations are expected to commence in August, after completing training. Officials added that more drones may be ordered based on feedback.

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