Army to Go on Rescue Prowl to Save the Big Cats
They protect us from cross-border intruders, and soon they could be protecting the big cats from the poachers. The Indian Army would be keeping an eye on tigers in sensitive border areas of the country as the National Tiger Conservation Authori ty (NTCA) has approached the Ministry of Defence (MoD) seeking help in saving the cats by monitoring their movements using drones and CCTV cameras near high security zones, including those close to the Indo-China border.
The move comes after the NTCA, a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, was denied permission by the MoD to carry out surveillance of tiger reserves using drones in areas near international borders and places housing defence installations and ammunition depots.
The tiger conservation authority is in the process of using drones, CCTVs and virtual fence to monitor movement of tigers in and around reserves. The advanced technology will provide virtual access to difficult terrains and dense forests in tiger reserves, which forest guards do not have access to. There are 44 tiger reserves in the country.
The NTCA took up the matter with the MoD, asking the armed forces to help in tiger monitoring at places where forest officers won’t be allowed to fly drones. After initial discussions with senior defence ministry officials, the NTCA was asked to send a detailed proposal.
“We are preparing a formal proposal which will be sent to the defence ministry by June. We have asked them if their men can fly the drones and collect information regularly in sensitive areas. They can inform the forest officers immediately if they have any suspicion or see human movement inside the core areas,” said a senior NTCA official.
The proposal will describe the kind of training and resources that will be required for the army men to handle equipment and perform the task. NTCA will also provide a list of tiger reserves in the country so that the defence ministry can mark areas which are sensitive and will be managed by its men.
“The defence ministry had earlier objected to drone trials in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, where a large number of one-horned rhinoceroses were killed by poachers last year. The ministry did not give us permission on security grounds,” said the official.
The drone trials are now being done at the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and the results of initial trials have been very encouraging.
Satisfied with the initial trails in Panna and the ongoing ‘Virtual Eye’ project in Corbett Tiger Reserve, the tiger conservation authority wants to replicate it in other places, but security clearance remains a major hurdle and the process takes months in some cases.
Drone trials are also being planned in either Corbett or Dudhwa tiger reserve in northern India and Sathyamangalam or Mudumalai tiger reserves in southern India in the months ahead.
Facing shortage of forest guards to man vast areas of tiger reserves and other protected sites, the NTCA is banking upon technology to save the big cats in India, which is home to the largest number of tigers in the world.
According to 2010 tiger census, there are 1,706 tigers in the wild and a big threat of poaching looms over them due to high demand of tiger parts in the international market. In 2013, 67 tiger deaths were reported while till now (April 19) this year, 22 tigers have died of various reasons. The NTCA is in the process of counting tigers and the census is expected to be out by December this year.