The Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) has won the Indian Railways’ ‘Best Innovation Award’ for 2018-19, for its initiative to drive away elephants from tracks using devices that play an amplified, buzzing noise similar to the sound made by honeybees.
The NFR had launched the project in September 2017 on an experimental basis and finalised it in May that year. The railway body claims that the bee sound system and other preventive measures saved the lives of at least 1,014 elephants between 2014 and 2019 (till June) in its area, which includes parts of North Bengal and all the Northeastern states. Currently, 46 such devices are installed across NFR’s region.
The NFR claims that no elephants were hit by trains in 2018-19, near railway tracks or near Level Crossing gates, compared to five such deaths in 2017-18. “With a large portion of its tracks passing through vast areas of forest land which are home to various wild animals including elephants; NFR has been facing a serious problem of elephant dashing, posing a threat both to trains and to the elephant population in the vicinity of tracks,” said Pranav Jyoti Sharma, Chief Public Relations Officer of the NFR.
There are as many as 29 earmarked corridors in NFR’s region where trains slow down to designated speeds. But, elephants often step onto a railway track in an area which is not in a corridor, leading to accidents. After several experimental methods deployed by NFR officials, along with those from the Assam Forest Department, authorities found during testing at the Phulbari Tea Estate under Rangiya Division, that wild elephants “started moving away, once the Honeybee sound was generated”, Sharma said.
“A device was designed to generate the amplified sound of a Honeybee that is audible from a distance of about 700-800 metres. The first instrument was installed at a level crossing gate between Azara and Kamakhya station under Rangiya Division. Finding the results very encouraging, the instrument was installed in many level crossing gates in zones located in the vicinity of forest areas. Presently, 46 such instruments have been installed all over NFR,” Sharma said.
According to data provided by the Assam government earlier this year, 761 people were killed by elephants in Assam since 2010, while 249 elephants lost their lives due to non-natural reasons in the same period. Of the 249 elephants killed since 2010, 20 died due to poisoning, 54 in train accidents, 91 due to electrocution, 38 due to ‘accidental’ reasons, 30 due to poisoning and 15 due to other injuries.