Assam government mulls GPS collars on elephants as early warning system
The government in Assam is considering a proposal to use GPS-fitted collars on elephants to study the pattern of their movement, officials said, as the number of casualties in the human-tusker conflict has been rising in the state.
“GPS-fitted collars would help map the migration route and locate herds. It will serve as an early warning system,” the state’s principal chief conservator of forests and head of forest force SK Srivastava said.
If all the approvals come through, the Assam forest department will start with a pilot project in Nagaon forest division.
“The idea is to fit the collars on five to six animals and then study the response,” said Suvasish Das, Nagaon’s district forest officer.
Srivastava pointed out that more than 70 humans and 55 elephants have lost their lives so far this year.
Last week, an elephant which had strayed from the herd killed four people including a child in Kheroni in West Karbi Anglong district. On the same day, another man was trampled to death in Udalguri part of the Bodo Territorial Administrative Districts.
Elephants, too, are bearing the brunt as they are often poisoned or die after coming in contact with the electric fences which have been put by people who are now mostly living in spaces which were earlier elephant habitats or corridors for their movement.
“Electrocution, train hits and poisoning are big reasons,” said Srivastava, adding the number of elephant deaths included those who died of natural causes, too.
Officials of the state forest department said the project will be carried out in consultation with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and Wildlife Institute of India.
Assam’s forest cover is under severe pressure from the rising population. A study by Indian Institute of Remote Sensing titled Forest Cover Monitoring and Prediction in a Lesser Himalayan Elephant Landscape, published in Current Science in August said 9,007.14 square kilometres of forest may face depletion by 2028 in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
The study which monitored forest cover depletion in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh over an area of 42,375 square kilometres of elephant landscape showed continuous high loss of forest cover.
“The total loss in forest cover was estimated to be about 7,590 sq km from 1924 to 2009,” the study said adding that an increasing human population and subsequent demand on the land for cultivation were the major reasons for forest cover depletion.
“It is such a scenario now that both the elephants and the humans are victims,” Assam’s principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) DP Bankhwal said.
“GPS collars will help gather crucial data. Unavailability of data is a problem,” he said adding that it is merely a means and part of the many technological interventions which are being considered but the problem needs to be tackled on the ground.
The forest department is also considering raising an in-house team of mahouts to train elephants which would be used to drive away rogue elephants.
“Mahouts from Assam have been engaged by other states but we do not have a sufficient number ourselves,” said Das.
The 2017 census put the population of elephants in the northeast at 10,139 of which 5,719 are found in Assam.