Indian officials are doing everything they can to reduce the number of elephants killed by trains, a common problem in the country. The most recent effort uses the sound of bees to keep elephants away from the tracks.
“The buzzing sound is in a frequency the elephants do not like,” a railway manager, Ravilesh Kumar, told Hindustan Times when the project was first launched in November 2017. “The device has prevented the animals from approaching the tracks at least five times, but we have instructed employees near elephant corridors to use the device only if the elephants come when trains are approaching,”
So far, the device has been the most effective technique to keep elephants away, and at Rs 2,000 (just under 30 USD) it’s relatively cheap to create. The officials simply downloaded a recording of honey bees and amplified it to create a sound range of 600 meters.
This new method of keeping elephants away was so successful, officials decided to install it in other regions as well. Originally tested in Rangiya, it is now being implemented in the Dooars region of Kishangnaj-Guwahati. After looking at elephant routes, speakers were installed at 27 locations along the railroad track.
“We are trying hard to save the elephants from being knocked down on tracks in the elephant corridor and the initial experiment has yielded positive results so far,” the National Frontier railway’s chief public relations officer Pranav Jyoti Verma said.
In addition to the buzzing sound to warn elephants away, authorities have introduced new speed restrictions in certain zones and created a Whatsapp group for forest officials to share information about elephant locations more quickly. This chat-based app also helps alert railway workers about elephants approaching the tracks.
Despite the device’s success in keeping elephants away, more work needs to be done to ensure their safety.
Just two months ago, 4 elephants died when they were hit by a speeding train conductor. Although authorities require conductors to reduce their velocity in zones where elephants commonly roam, this driver sped through at 75 mph.
Yet, if it weren’t for this negligent driver, the number of elephant deaths due to train crashes would be at just 1 for this year. This shows the new measures have potential to be effective as long as individual drivers follow procedures.
India is home to between 23,900 to 32,900 wild elephants. Poachers and human-elephant conflicts already put elephants at risk, and trains that cross through elephant routes add to the challenge of conserving the species. In just one region of India, West Bengal, 30 elephants died from train accidents between 2013 and 2017 yet the conductors responsible for the deaths had no consequences.
Officials plan to soon introduce another layer of protection – adding 109 km of fencing along certain areas of the railway tracks.