Elephants are architects of the forest and woodland ecosystem. Many ecologists feel woodlands may cease to exist without elephants. In tropical forests, 30 percent of the gigantic tree species and 40 percent of tall tree species depend on elephants for seed dispersal. Considered nature’s ‘gardener’, they are key in shaping the landscape, in pollination, germination of seeds and improving the fertility of forest soil with heaps of dung. The importance of elephants for the existence of forests — which provide for humanity’s basic needs, including pure air, clean water, medicine and energy and also ensure food security.
Elephants help maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species and are integrally tied to rich biodiversity. Therefore, it is necessary to conserve them and ensure unintentional accidents do not occur in the railway tracks.
The extensive network of Indian Railways cuts across dense forests, habitat of various wild species. In many states, railway lines passing through elephant habitats have led to numerous accidents and the death of around 300 elephants during 1987-2021. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) acted to mitigate human-elephant conflict, but elephants have continued to die due to speeding trains. This despite the MoEF&CC declaring the elephant a ‘National Hritage Animal’ in 2010, considering the valuable ecological services rendered by the species.
Given the importance of the elephant, immediate solutions to reduce its mortality by railway accidents is a pressing need. The major causes for the damage are: Ignorance and negligence from train drivers, difficulties faced by railway personnel while driving fast-moving trains through dense forests, especially during night hours. In certain places, when the elephant tries to cross the railway track, it gets trapped between steep embankments on either side of the track. Due to the obstruction of the view of the railway track, especially at bends, caused by vegetation that has grown on either side of the track, certain unavoidable accidents take place. The accidents have increased after gauge conversion and also due to enhanced speeds of trains from 60 kph to 100 kph. Of course, the increase in the elephant population has also contributed to the increasing number of accidents. In addition to elephants, other animals like gaur, sambar, leopard and tiger have been killed by colliding with trains due to the expansion of the railway network, gauge conversion, over-speeding and increased frequency. Train passengers dispose of waste food and other eatables on the tracks attracts wild animals. A mutual understanding and friendly coordination between the forest department and the railways are very much required to sort out the issue. But that's not enough. Develop a solution to tackle this problem. The solution can be and not limited to technology, applications, system designs, implementation models, and so on. The solution should be logically and practically implementable.
- Solutions shall include awareness and sensitisation programmes and mutual understanding between forest and railway officials, technological interventions such as but not limited to sensors, Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Computer vision etc.
- Solutions should be economically, environmentally, and socially feasible.
- Solutions shall be practically implemented in the current infrastructure or shall be implemented in the upcoming new developments. This has to be specified clearly in the solution.
- The Solution Stage should be specified (Well Documented Idea, Research Paper, Prototype, or a Product that can be implemented)
Scale of the challenge
Severity of the Challenge
- 500 Learning Credits
- Opportunity to work with Government.