Human-elephant conflict in Kodagu: Thermal drone pinpoints elephant presence at night
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Human-elephant conflict in Kodagu: Thermal drone pinpoints elephant presence at night

July 18, 2023

Helps Forest Officers effectively plan operations and drive pachyderms back into jungle

Amid the rise in the human-elephant conflict in some forested pockets of Kodagu along the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, the Forest Department has deployed a hi-tech thermal drone to keep track of daytime and nocturnal movements of wild elephants inside forest ranges and human habitats.

The drone technology was first used in Nagarahole to control forest fires and now, there are three such drones there. However, a need was felt to acquire a thermal drone due to the increasing human-elephant conflict.

Sources said while managing the human-elephant conflict, the safety of elephants and also humans has been a major concern for the Forest Department and the wildlife activists as deaths of animals are being frequently reported from various parts of the district as they come into contact with live electricity wires.

Due to the need, one thermal drone was brought to Nagarahole in January this year at a cost of Rs. 25 lakh. Monitoring the movement of the elephants has always been a challenge for the Department amid several limitations.

“Now we have been using a thermal drone and it detects live objects through their body temperature and those get flashed on the computer screen. It gives us a proper count of a herd and the number of calves,” Nagarahole Tiger Reserve Director Harshakumar Chikkanaragund told Star of Mysore.

The drone can also be used to drive the elephant herd away from a potential danger area as its location can be pinpointed. The drones are not only helping the staff determine the herd composition and drive them in a desirable direction but also prevent casualties.

Heat signatures of living species

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Unlike drones with normal cameras that rely on light signals to capture images, thermal drone cameras pick up heat signatures of living species in motion. This makes thermal drones ideal for deployment after sunset, complementing the use of normal drones during daylight hours.

“By accurately detecting herd movements, determining their composition and tracking elephant directions, objective decisions can be made for deploying elephant squads. Thermal drone cameras have become an invaluable asset for night-time operations. They enhance situational awareness, ensuring efficient management of wild elephant movements and mitigating potential conflicts,” Harshakumar added.

According to Deputy Range Forest Officer (DRFO) Yogeshwari Desai, who has been trained to use the thermal drone, the machine has a 2-km range and can fly 400 metres above the surface. It has a powerful thermal sensor and night vision ‘positive image’ technology cameras. It is convenient to use and the exact location can be ascertained. If one has to do physical combing even for a 2-km range, a lot of manpower and equipment is needed,” she explained. 

Easy navigation inside woods

The camera on the drone operates based on the location information obtained via GPS, enabling easy navigation of the elephants’ whereabouts. Additionally, the drones produce minimal noise, allowing the staff to monitor animals such as elephants, tigers and other wildlife without causing any disturbance.

During the night, the thermal drones conduct operations using radar, ensuring that local residents are not inconvenienced. Once the specific location of the elephants is identified, the information is sent to the Task Force and the teams proceed to drive the elephants back into the forest.

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It also becomes easy to spot the origin of forest fire and extinguishers can be rushed to the place, she said. The drone has a backup of 40 minutes and after that, the battery must be charged. The drone has three batteries.

The team that has been trained to operate thermal drone at Nagarahole.

Trained team

Before the drone was deployed, a New Delhi-based team trained eight operators at Nagarahole. They are DRFO Jyothi Kumar and Forest Guard Sunil Nellebidu (Antharasanthe), DRFO B.B. Mahesh Kumar (D.B. Kuppe), DRFO Chethan Kumar Kolur (Nagarahole), DRFO Yogeshwari Desai (Anechowkur), DRFOs K.K. Arpitha and H.N. Madhuprasad (Hunsur) and Forest Guard Basavaraju (Veeranahosahalli).

The operators were trained for six days at Dammanakatte, Veeranahosahalli and Moorkal ranges that abut human habitats. The Nagarahole Director further said that they will seek aid from wildlife-related organisations, NGOs and firms to sponsor more such thermal drones for effective management of conflict zones.


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