Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Trunk calls

Trunk calls Ganesh Raghunathan
18 Jul
2015
An elephant early warning system is preventing deaths across India’s tea and coffee plantations

In rural India, someone walking home after a day at work may spot a flashing red light in the distance. At the same moment, an SMS text message might appear on their mobile phone. The meaning of these alerts is simple: elephants are nearby, be careful.

As both human habitats and tea and coffee plantations in southern India have spread outwards into the surrounding rainforest, people – especially plantation workers – are more frequently coming into accidental contact with wild elephants. This conflict has serious repercussions, with more than 400 people and 100 elephants killed each year as a result.

Enter Ananda Kumar, a scientist at India’s Nature Conservation Foundation, and his ‘Elephant Information Network’. Launched on the Valparai plateau in the Anaimalai rainforest, where 75,000 people share the land with between 80 and 100 elephants, the network tracks the animals and enables real-time sharing of their locations to anyone in the near vicinity who could be directly affected. All of which is a far cry from the early days, when alerts appeared only as pop-ups on local television channels. Users now engage with more modern technologies, such as mobile phones, mobile-operated beacons, and Google Maps.

‘The message goes like this: “There are elephants in such-and-such tea estate”,’ says Kumar. ‘There’s no need to panic, but people do need to be aware. What we want to get across to people is that there are no problem elephants, just problem locations.’

textExample text message (Image: Ganesh Raghunathan)

By raising awareness and minimising unintentional encounters, the system enables a more peaceful coexistence between humans and elephants in the region. From an average of three human deaths annually prior to the programme’s introduction in 2002, this has dropped to an average of only one per year. Kumar is now expanding his network across India, adapting the system to work in other regions where human habitats are increasingly overlapping with elephant ranges.

This article was published in the July 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine. Ananda Kumar is a winner of a 2015 Whitley Award, from the Whitley Fund for Nature

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Since 2006, tiger habitats have shrunk by more than 40…

Climate

Advances in space-based lightning mapping have allowed scientists to measure…

Energy

The amount of energy used by the wealthy minority dwarfs…

Wildlife

Left denuded and depleted of wildlife following a decades-long civil…

Climate

Katie Burton explores the practicalities and ethics of geoengineering, the…

Energy

Though the pandemic has gripped the world's attention, lying just…

Climate

The IPCC embraced the notion of carbon offset schemes in…

Geophoto

The shortlist for the 2020 Wellcome Photography Prize has been…

Climate

Millions have been displaced due to severe floods in central…

Wildlife

A portable DNA assay could revolutionise the way border officials…

Climate

A handy gathering of facts about carbon emissions with graphs…

Oceans

Researchers have revealed just how many polluting microfibres are released…

Wildlife

Increasing reports of seized jaguar fangs and skin suggest that…

Geophoto

Forced isolation has given many of us the chance to…

Oceans

A fifth of the ocean floor has now been mapped,…

Wildlife

Four ex-circus lions discovered in France are due to be…

Oceans

A roundup of some of the top discussions from the…

Energy

The agave plant, used to make Tequila, has proven itself…