Technology use mooted to check elephant fatalities on rail tracks

 GUWAHATI, Feb 14 – Alarmed at the abnormally high incidence of elephant fatalities on railway tracks in Assam, wildlife experts have called for use of modern surveillance technology like Automated Early Warning System (AEWS) to check the disturbing trend.Experts have also called for assessment of the factors behind the growing presence of elephants on railway tracks.

Nature & Wildlife Association of France (NWA) and Green Guard Nature Organization, which had a meeting in Thailand on Monday, suggested, among other things, installation of an automated on-train early warning system that can track and warn drivers about animal presence on and around tracks from a distance of over 3 km.

“It’s time technology is put to effective use to stop elephant fatalities on tracks. There is technology that can provide early warning on elephant presence as well as facilitate the monitoring of elephant movement,” NWA president Andy Merk said.

He said that the AEWS developed by RailVision, an Israel-based company, involves a safety device that is mounted on the train locomotive, and which can detect the presence of an animal on or near tracks and thereafter send a warning to the loco pilot.

The system works with a specially adapted sensor with a unique algorithm located on the top of the locomotive that provides an alarm for any suspicious interfering object with a preliminary classification of the any object nature. This information is then presented to the loco pilot as a visual image (on-board monitor) for additional exploring of the obstacle ahead of the train. The operational range of the system is up to two miles.

“Many trains across the globe are increasingly using these technologies to minimize different types of train accidents, including animal-hits. Dash-cam with remote live view and backup is another useful technology,” Rituraj Phukan, secretary general, Green Guard Nature Organization said.

The meet also deliberated on why elephants were increasingly frequenting railway tracks.

“What are they really doing there? It is often assumed that the elephants were crossing the railway tracks during train-hit incidents. Are elephants feeding on or along the tracks? There is grass on both sides of railway tracks and it is possible that they are feeding there. They may also be attracted by food and garbage on the tracks. But we need proper investigation and monitoring to establish the facts,” Phukan said.

Wildlife experts also suspect that considering the multiple number of casualties during every incident, it could also be possible that elephants are sleeping on the tracks. Another possibility is that the elephants are walking on or along the tracks.

“Matters such as how to monitor elephant activities on the track, and why is it that train-hits happen only at night, are also issues that need to be looked into,” NWA secretary general Lailani Fouad said.

The meet also recommended facilities for better lighting on trains, tracks, use of reflectors, use of dash-cams, and a dedicated monitoring team to help monitor elephant movement on the railway tracks.

The meeting noted that over a dozen elephants had been killed by trains in the past couple of months in Assam, with each incident claiming more than one elephant.

“The elephant population has increased while habitat loss has been rampant, leading to scarce food sources. While the focus is on protected areas (national parks and wildlife sanctuaries), many incidents occur elsewhere, especially along reserve forests,” Phukan said.

The meeting further recommended creation of an accessible database of such incidents for facilitating better coordination and implementation of additional measures whenever required.

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