Could Texting Prevent Elephant Raids and Save Lives?

An elephant attack might sound completely out of character for an animal often perceived to be a friendly docile giant; however this is the stuff of nightmares for many people living on forest fringes in India.

Author RESET , 07.17.13

An elephant attack might sound completely out of character for an animal often perceived to be a friendly docile giant; however this is the stuff of nightmares for many people living on forest fringes in India.

Human incursion into elephant territory; drought and the destruction of forests through the mining and timber industries have driven elephants into populated areas in search of food and water. The displaced animals, usually in a small group of 10 to 15, charge into the village unexpectedly, destroying homes and devouring crops before moving to another location. Frequently during these attacks people are often injured or killed. The repeated attacks have led to resentment against the animals and many people see the elephants simple as a nuisance. Unfortunately this has led to the animals being killed and attacked in retaliation. According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) reports, elephant excursions into populated areas causes the deaths of up 300 people a year. In return it is estimated that 40 to 50 elephants are killed annually in human-elephant conflicts.

In response to these attacks researchers in Tamil Nave been working on a texting system which can be used to warn those living on the outskirts of forested areas of elephant attacks. When disturbed, the intrusion detection system (developed by S.J. Sugumar of Coimbatore Institute of Technology and R. Jayaparvathy of SSN College of Engineering Chennai and published recently in the journal Current Science) warns forests officials if the elephants are heading towards a village.

A buried geophone (a device that detects a seismic vibration and converts it into voltage) detects the footfall of the elephant which then generates an electrical signal. This signal is then amplified and compared to a set threshold which is based on the amount of energy created by the footfall of a single elephant. If the signal exceeds the threshold, the system then sends out a warning SMS to the forest officials.

It is possible that other animals could set of false alarms by treading on or around the devices; however, to avoid this confusion the researchers have developed four different types of possible responses so that false alarms are not triggered. Research concluded that 91.25 percent of the time, the type of animal could be determined solely through measuring the vibration.

The researchers believe that combining this method with analyzing the migration data of elephants in an area can be used to prevent attacks. Hopefully, such a warning system might prevent incidences like the raids that took place recently in Keonjhar – where 17 elephants raided more than 15 villages and destroyed two dozen homes around bordering forest range villages.

Author: Stephen Walsh/ RESET Editorial

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