Kerala turns to cameras to curb elephant attacks

After three people died in attacks by elephants in Kerala over the last three weeks, the local authorities hope hundreds of new cameras and intense patrolling will help combat the problem, which has sparked protests.

In the most recent incident, 52-year-old tourist guide Paul Vellachalil, an employee of the Kuruva Dweep eco-tourism centre of the forest department, was fatally attacked by a herd of elephants on Feb 16 in the town of Pulpally in the forested Wayanad region, local media reported.

His family members said he could have been saved had he received timely medical attention, another issue confronting the hilly district. He succumbed to his injuries at the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital, after travelling 100km on the busy hill road.

Thousands of people blocked roads in the town on Feb 17 and vandalised a vehicle belonging to the forest department to protest against the incident, with police resorting to baton charging to disperse the crowd, reports said.

Environmental activists, however, blame deforestation as the root cause of the problem, saying elephants are being driven off their natural habitat into more built-up areas.

At a meeting convened by state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, it was decided that 250 “advanced cameras” will be installed along forest borders and wildlife corridors to monitor the movement of animals.

Nearly 55 per cent of Kerala, a state of 35 million people, is covered by forest, according to a report from the Forest Survey of India.

“The chief minister has also ordered round-the-clock patrolling of forests,” Mr Vijayan’s office said in a statement.

At least 67 people died in wild elephant attacks in Kerala between 2020 and 2022, India’s Deputy Forest Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey said in Parliament last December.

Environmental activist N. Badusha said “massive degradation of forests” in the region is affecting the elephant population. “Habitats of wild animals have shrunk, forcing them to enter human settlements for food and water,” he added.

Kerala’s forest minister said last year that Wayanad’s elephant population had dropped to just 1,920 from 3,322 in 2017, local media reported.

In Kerala as a whole, the number of elephants more than halved between 2017 and 2023 to just 2,386, according to a census conducted by the state’s forest department, reports said.

In other measures announced by the chief minister on Feb 17, “neighbourhood-level WhatsApp groups” and public address systems will be used in Kerala to warn people about the movement of wild animals and alert them to any danger.

Reuters

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