Innovative technology will now be used to save an ancient species of the country. An early warning signal is being developed to monitor the movement of elephants on railway tracks where a number of those have been crushed by speeding trains.

According to the report of the Elephant Task Force dated August 31, 2010, 150 animals have been killed in train collisions since 1987. Assam is on the top of jumbo casualties due to train-hits since 1987, which amounts to 36 per cent of total casualties. A stretch near Deepor Beel, and a few other areas have proved to be particularly dangerous for the pachyderms.

The Ministries of Railways and Environment and Forests will undertake the project which will use a wireless sensor device developed by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi. Called ‘The Wild Animal Protection System,’ it works by detecting the presence of elephants on the railway track and by triggering a signal to the station master to warn trains to slow down or stop.

The initiative has been promoted by Animal Equality, an animal rights organisation. Concerned by the accidents and the inability of the authorities to implement effective measures, Animal Equality had sent a communiqué to the Minister of Environment and Forests and Minister of Railways urging them to ‘consider suggestions.’

The suggestions included installation of radar sensors on the train that will detect animals in front of the train and on tracks. In addition it could have an auto-brake function which can be utilised to avoid collision, a press note stated.

“We are thankful to the Ministries of Railways and Environment and Forests for considering the suggestions sent by us. Sensor devices are used by international car companies and it is also used in some trains and ships… the pilot project of the sensor device is expected to be developed by 2015 and will be ready for testing in 2016,” said Amruta Ubale of Animal Equality.

The State Forest Department and animal welfare organisations have intervened in some states and taken measures such as patrolling, electric fencing, installation of signs and hoardings, creating awareness among train drivers, clearing vegetation at blind corners to improve visibility of loco pilots. These appear to have been successful to some extent.

Much, however, needs to be done as trains continue to kill and maim elephants. Now existing measures combined with the Wild Animal Protection System sensor device can prove successful in mitigating elephant deaths.