As World Elephant Day was marked across the globe today, automated elephant tracking devices were installed to minimise human-elephant conflict in the Punding Khairani forest villages under the Punding forest beat in the Darjeeling Wildlife Division today.

The local populace in the villages near Gulma station, around 15 km away from Siliguri, depends on agriculture, and people there have been bearing the brunt of elephant depredation every year. The jumbos damage paddy, maize and vegetable cultivated in the fields during raids, the villagers said.

The Society for Nature & Animal Protection (SNAP), an organization, has taken the initiative with active support from the forest department to install the devices in the forest villages.

The forest department has already installed 30 automated tracking devices at the Ramsai-Kalipur beats in the Gorumara National Park, Dhupjhora Beat and Bichabhanga.

Ten more devices will be installed there.

According to SNAP representatives, elephant raids were prevented in some cases in those areas after the devices raised an alarm. Forest officials said the device will help alert foresters and villagers on any elephant movement nearby.

“It is basically a pilot project. SNAP has developed a device that will help track the movement of elephants 200 meters away. Nearby beat offices will hear a siren and they will alert the villagers over the movement of elephants. The devices were installed in the forest villages under Punding beat today,” said the Darjeeling wildlife divisional forest officer, Jiju Jaesper.

The organization had conducted a survey to identify the hotspots in December last year. Mapping and identification of conflict-prone areas were undertaken with the assistance of the forest department, and the process of the installation started in May. Eight devices were installed today, while at least four more will be set up at New Chamta area in the later phase.

“We carried out a survey to identify the elephant corridors and conflict zones, and the devices have been installed accordingly. Following the installation of the devices, elephant raids were averted in and around the Gorumara, Dhupjhora beats on some occasions. We are hopeful that the move will help mitigate human-elephant conflict in the long run,” said Simu Saha, a member of SNAP.