How SMS saves humans from elephants in the tea meadows of Valparai

Every day, around 3 pm, Ganesh Raghunathan sends out at least 800 SMS alerts to people living close to the elephant corridors in Valparai in Coimbatore district about the movements of the pachyderms.

The text messages in English and Tamil have the mobile numbers of people to contact in an emergency. The Red Light Flashing System installed in 24 areas in the Valparai region is also alerting people.

A couple of early warning systems, installed over a year ago, to minimise the man-animal conflict in Valparai region have found positive response from the local people, according to M Ananda Kumar, wildlife scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation in Valparai, which introduced the warning systems with the help of the UK-based Elephant Family and some private companies in this plantation town two years ago. "Two days ago, a pregnant woman called me on sighting a herd of elephants before her hut. We asked her not to make noise. We gave her some tips over phone, and it worked out. The herd soon moved from the spot. This shows how people respond to the Elephant Information Network developed by us," said Kumar.

At least 38 people were killed in various man-elephant conflicts between 1994 and 2012 in Valparai region alone. When Kumar and his team began their study, they realised that loss of human life due to direct encounters with elephants was mainly due to lack of information about their movements to the local people. Establishing a conflict response unit (CRU) to track the elephant movements was the first step.

Based on the information they received from the CRU, the team introduced three kinds of early warning measures. "We first started flashing warnings about elephant movements on local cable TV channels. This didn't work out well as many didn't have TV at their homes. To solve this, we developed our SMS service to inform people. The SMS service was a turning point. It got tremendous response from people. We have also installed mobile phone operated red-flashing LED indicator lights in strategic locations by involving local people who could operate them from their registered mobile phones when elephants are around," said Kumar. The system could also be introduced in other human-elephant conflict areas in India, he added.


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