Drones to keep tabs on jumbos in Uttarakhand to avoid train mishap deaths
Worried over elephant movements close to railway tracks, the Uttarakhand forest department has decided to use drone cameras to keep an eye on moving animals in the Tanda belt of Udham Singh Nagar district, officials said.
A drone is an unmanned aircraft or a flying robot, which may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans.
Two railway tracks -- Lalkuan to Kashipur and Lalkuan to Rudrapur -- pass through the Tanda forests, which have an elephant corridor. Elephant herds often come close to the tracks in search of water and fodder, leading to accidents. In April last year, two elephants were killed after they were hit by a train at Haldi in Tanda forest division.
“This is the first time that movement of elephants will be monitored through drone technology to avoid fatalities in Uttarakhand. Forest officials are being imparted training for handling drones,” said Parag Madhukar Dhakate, conservator of forest, western circle.
Five drones will be used in a pilot project. In the first phase, drones will be used over Lalkuan and Rudrapur railway tracks. A drone can fly at a height of 2000 metres and cover a stretch of 9 km, Dhakate said.
“Drones will be flown 30 minutes prior to the scheduled time of a train during daytime,” he said. “If they notice an elephant or a herd near the tracks, forest officials will inform the railway station master concerned, who will then direct the loco pilot to reduce the speed of the train in that area.”
The department has taken a cue from the states, such as Tamil Nadu, which have used drones to keep an eye on the movement of the animals.
Dipen Kalita, an Assam-based expert on elephants, said, “The drone monitoring can help (in reducing fatalities in accidents) in a big way.”
In December last year, five adult elephants and a calf were crushed to death by a train when the herd was trying to cross a rail line in Assam’s Sonitpur district.
India has the largest wild population of the Asian elephants — around 28,000. A report by the Elephant Task force, revealed that 150 elephants were crushed to death by trains between 1987 and 2010. It is also estimated that in the past one decade, over 100 elephants lost their lives in train collisions.
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