Elephants - an early warning system | Sunday Observer

Elephants - an early warning system

7 February, 2021

People who live in villages bordering jungles frequently suffer from wild elephant attacks.  Government, non-government and private organisations try their best to find solutions to this issue executing various kinds of projects. However, the problem is still not solved and needs further attention.

The electric fence along the border of jungles has solved the issue to a certain extent, but due to some shortcomings in functionality and long-term maintenance issues, it does not give the expected results to mitigate wild elephant attacks. Apart from technological solutions, some projects have been initiated using traditional knowledge. 

Whatever the technological solution that has been implemented to manage the human elephant conflict (HEC), the involvement of the community is quite important. The success of the technical solutions will mainly depend on the contribution of the community to maintain the technological system.

Application 

In villages affected by human elephant conflict, the houses are located far apart from each other and are surrounded by their cultivated lands. As a result, it is difficult to request for help from neighbours in case of an emergency, and this is one of the main reasons why the head of the household gets attacked by the wild elephants when trying to chase the animal away.

To mitigate such isolated attacks by wild elephants, community involvement is essential. In general, elephants are considered wise animals, and they can find ways to overcome  the electric fence by damaging it and coming to the village in search of food. In such a situation the villagers have to chase the elephant back to the jungle and it cannot be done by a single person. Only one person attending to such an activity is a risk. The elephant early warning system (EEWS) was developed to mitigate such elephant attacks.      

Most farmers also possess at least a simple mobile phone making it possible to implement the elephant early warning system in villages which are threatened by wild elephants.

The elephant early warning system consists of a main controlling station in a safe location and a siren unit in the field. Depending on the geographic condition of the village, the number of sirens can be duplicated to improve audibility to the entire village. During the configuration stage, the names of the villagers and the names of the neighboring community of a given villager are added to the system.   

When there is an attack from a wild elephant the villager can dial the pilot number of the EEWS, where EEWS will send alert messages to the neighbouring community members. At the same time the siren installed in the middle of the village will activate in order to disseminate the disaster situation to people within the area.

With the message and the sound of the siren community members can gather and take preventive action to mitigate the wild elephant attack.  When an elephant attacks a village, it can go anywhere inside the village.

To trace the animal and to make the villagers aware, a mobile application was developed to be used in Smart phones. When a villager sees an elephant, he/she has to touch an icon on the Smart phone, where the others will receive the exact location of the elephant who is inside the village. At the same time the siren will start to give the audible warning.    

At the moment, this system is installed in Wathupolagama and Ehetuwewa in Galgamuwa divisional secretariats, as a pilot project with the collaboration of Eco System Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP) which functions under the Ministry of Wild Life. As a part of the project, electric fences have been installed to protect the villages.

To mitigate the wild elephant attacks using an electric fence, the fence should be maintained properly. According to available information, most of the electric fencing projects have failed due to lack of preventive maintenance. Therefore, as the first step, a small society was formed to maintain the electric fence. All activities related to electric fences were conducted through this union/society. Therefore to alleviate the elephant attacks more proactively, the implementation of the EEWS was done through the above societies.  

The system was designed and developed by Dushmantha Buddika, Purnima Wijewardane, Anurudda Samarasekara and Udara Abeywickrama with the technical and administrative guidance of Dr Ruwan Weerasinghe of the Industrial Technology Institute and the field installation was done on the advice and the leadership of Dammika Pebotuwa, the deputy project director of ESCAMP.  - ITI

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