Jumbo alert

SMS-based alert system can drastically cut human-elephant conflicts

By Megha Prakash
Published: Monday 15 July 2013

imageRADIO COLLARS, fire crackers, drum beats, powerful spotlights and electric fencing are commonly deployed to track the movement of elephants in villages and to chase them away. Still elephant-human conflict is on the rise and nearly 500,000 families get affected every year.

Researchers from Coimbatore Institute of Technology and SSN College of Engineering in Chennai have now developed an elephant alert system that uses SMS and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technology to warn villagers of approaching jumbos. Their study was published in Current Science on June 10. The researchers have taken inspiration for their work from a paper published in 2011 in International Journal of Conservation that described use of mobile phones to control human-elephant conflict in Laikipia County, Kenya.

“The study is unique. Elephant movement is unpredictable and often villagers are too scared to come out of their houses to urinate,” says Surendra Varma, wildlife biologist and conservationist at Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, Bengaluru. Use of SMS may help alert officials and villagers and could help mitigate humanelephant conflicts, says Varma.

The device design and function is simple. Geophones convert vibrations from elephant footfall into an electrical signal, which generates a digital analogue code— zero or one. One indicates presence of an elephant. This information then gets forwarded to forest officials as an SMS, explains S J Sugumar, lead author of the study. To deploy the new system, resear chers analysed 20 years (1990-2010) of elephant migratory data to understand the pachyderm’s behaviour in three areas of high elephant-human conflict in Tamil Nadu— Nanjundapuram, Periya Thagad am and Anaikatti. This helped identify from where the elephants entered human settlements.

To distinguish elephant footfall from others, the researchers classified footfall outputs for humans, lion and gemsbok as well. Each geophone covers a range of 120 square metre and five are enough to track the study area. However, Andre Pittet, chief project advisor to the department of electronics systems engineering at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, suggests it would be interesting to find out if sound of cars and trucks may affect the system and how the system would behave with water content variation in soil as this may affect sound transmission.


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