A new, high-tech device is set to be tested in India that could prevent the rising number of elephants killed by trains.
A decade in the making, the device — developed by Professor Subrat Kar at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi — uses sensors, cameras, and lasers to detect the presence of elephants near the train tracks. Once elephants are detected, the sensors send messages directly to drivers so they can either slow down or stop the train completely.
In February this year, five elephants were tragically killed when hit by a speeding train. The herd included young calves who were unable to move off the tracks in time; the adult elephants surrounded the babies in an attempt to save them, resulting in the death of two babies and three adults.
Only a month ago, another elephant was killed as it tried to cross the tracks in Assam.
These numbers are shocking, especially since authorities have been trying to address the problem for the last five years. New rules came into play last year stating that trains must go no faster than 30 km per hour in elephant corridors, and wildlife officials are supposed to let the Railways department know about movements of herds close to the tracks. In some spots, there are even speakers which emit the sound of buzzing bees in an attempt to deter elephants.
A LadyFreethinker petition urging India’s Minister of Railways to take action on this issue has reached nearly 18,000 signatures.
Elephant/human conflict is a massive problem for the nation, as the population expands into key habitats and elephants are forced to interact with people and deal with manmade hazards.
Train tracks cross through 20 of India’s 101 elephant corridors, and the problem is only going to increase as infrastructure — including more railway lines — spreads across the country.
With elephant deaths occurring with increasing regularity, this device can’t come soon enough; however, researchers are waiting until the 2019 monsoon season to commence testing at a site in the Rajaji National Park.
“We will install sensors at sensitive spots, and not everywhere,” said Subrat Kar, the developer of the device. “There are known paths along which the elephants move, so we install sensors on these paths, which detect them through bodyrays, cameras, and vibration.
“The success of this preventive measure depends on detecting the elephants much before the train is there. Three kilometers before roughly translates to 3-4 minutes before.