COIMBATORE: Two drones procured by the Forest Department to surveil the activities in the forest, especially to monitor the elephant movements, remain unused as the officials claim that the equipment is not user-friendly. It was reported that the drones were purchased two years ago by spending around `12 lakh.
The information came to the light when department officials hired a drone from private parties to monitor wild elephants on the World Elephant Day, Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the forest department had stated that a drone was used over forest patches at the Sirumugai and Mettupalayam forest ranges to find if there was any sick wild elephant in the area.
When TNIE asked why the drone owned by the department was not used, a senior official from the department said that the two drones purchased in August 2018 weighed around three kg -- priced at Rs 5 lakh -- and five kg -- priced at 7 lakh. Due to its weight, more than two persons were needed to operate the equipment. According to him, unlike the new model (the rented one), the existing model procured by the department can be operated only up to seven minutes. Hence, they find it difficult to use it during such surveys.
"Only seven of our staff are recently trained in operating the drone and we have decided to engage other staff at different forest range once they are well trained. However, we have rented the drone from private parties and used four times for an interval of 15-minute duration on Wednesday evening," said the official.
It may be noted that the department has faced criticism because if they had used the drone to monitor the elephants, they could have identified and rescued the elephants at the earlier stages.
Officials were tight-lipped when queries were raised about why the drones were not used for monitoring the animal health well before they fall sick.
Out of the 17 elephants that died due to various reasons in the Coimbatore forest division, nearly four elephants were found sick only after they fell ill on the ground and were unable to move further. "On Wednesday, we recorded the movements of two wild elephants, gaur, sambar deer in Mettupalayam forest and it was found that the animals are healthy. We did not record their movements in Sirumugai," said the official
The department officials said that they will soon decide on whether to buy new drones or handover the existing drones to the forest department in Chennai in the coming weeks.