CHENNAI: When two wild elephants started giving sleepless nights to local forest officials in Gudalur since April this year, Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj had some instructions to put forward. He asked the officials to make use of digital wireless network and drones along with kumkis and effective gears such as pepper aerosol spray and chilly ropes to mitigate the problem. The idea seems to be working, as the forest department has put the drones to good use.
Niraj told Express, “Elephants usually come to plunder during the night hours when monitoring is difficult. Forest officials use the drones during the day time to locate the elephants and send the kumkis to push them deeper into the forests towards Kerala and Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.” According to him, no untoward incident has happened during the past few nights and that the elephants were now loitering along Kerala border.
“The prudent use of technology and diligence on the field actually work well. As this is encouraging, we are actually contemplating on setting up a drone flying and research school somewhere near Theni so as to use them widely,” Niraj added. He appreciated the commitment shown by the Gudalur forest officials in carrying out the operation despite facing several odds.
Financial crunch, staff shortage hampering efforts
The Gudalur division is plagued by 30-40 percent shortage in field staff, including guards and watchers. The division is highly fragmented with human habitations located between pockets of about 300 reserve forests.
“We are having about 25 anti-poaching watchers. We recruited 100 anti-depredation squad members, who have not been paid for the last four months. The government has to support our efforts,” said an official.
The official said the elephants were damaging houses that were built in encroached forest areas, through which elephants migrate. “The government should initiate steps to evict or rehabilitate them,” the official added.