By K.M. Rakesh
India’s wildlife parks have for several years been GPS-tracking their animals through radio-collars and microchip implants. For the first time now, the trackers will be tracked too.
A tiger reserve near Mysore has hooked its jungle patrol teams to a smartphone-based GPS system to keep tabs on their movements, so the nearest team can be rushed to tackle emergencies such as poaching or forest fires.
Also, the live monitoring of patrolling patterns will tell the bosses at the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, 220km from Bangalore, which team is working and which is shirking.
Bangalore-based engineering firm Sidvin Core-Tech has developed the application Hejje (“pug marks” in Kannada) for the reserve free of charge, under a corporate social responsibility initiative.
“Hejje helps us clearly mark out the areas patrolled, or not patrolled, by our teams,” reserve director R. Gokul told The Telegraph.
“Each of our 57 patrolling teams, totalling around 400 personnel, is now provided with an Android smartphone loaded with the Hejje application.”
Although the teams already had single-band walkie-talkies to communicate with each other and the control room, Gokul said the live “pings” (digital signals) that Hejje provided as the patrols moved around their assigned zones was a real advantage.
“We can now know to the dot which teams are the closest to an emergency site involving other personnel, animals or even a fire,” Gokul said.
Although poaching is not a very serious issue in Nagarahole, frequent forest fires have destroyed large tracts and killed small animals. “In last year’s fire we lost around 100 acres of forest,” Gokul said.
Quick response is crucial to containing forest fires in the summer, when dry leaves and shrubs act as fuel. Countless reptiles, Malabar squirrels and monkeys and acres of green cover were destroyed in last year’s fire.
Hejje requires the bare minimum of GPRS mobile signals, Gokul said. “We have installed a few boosters inside the forest to link up the tracking system.”
The 643sqkm reserve, earlier part of the larger Bandipur Tiger Reserve, has also installed 400 cameras for visual information on animal movements.
Donated by city-based IT firm CSS Corp under a corporate social responsibility initiative, the cameras — worth Rs 85 lakh — are fitted in pairs, facing each other from a few feet apart.
“Every 4sqkm area has one pair of cameras facing each other,” said Gokul.
Whenever an animal passes between a pair of cameras, the infrared beams connecting the pair are interrupted. That triggers the inbuilt flash in either camera to shoot pictures from either side of the animal.
“Images of a tiger from both sides will give us the exact stripe details, which are as unique as fingerprints in humans,” Gokul said.
“The stripe database can be used to identify the animal if it falls in the camera trap again or is found dead.”
Being territorial animals like elephants, tigers tend to move about their usually large home turf. So, one tiger could get camera-trapped more than once, and by different pairs of cameras.
Their unique stripe pattern, thus documented, could be used to identify even a poached tiger’s skin.