Now, AI-powered fences bring new hope to Kerala’s human-wildlife conflict zones

In a first, the Kerala Forest Department has introduced AI-powered solar fencing to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jun 19, 2024 | 8:00 AM Updated Jun 19, 2024 | 8:00 AM

Elephant herd at Kanthallur.

In a bid to reduce the loss of lives and damage to property caused by human-wildlife conflicts, the Kerala Forest Department has launched an innovative solution: Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered solar fencing.

This technology is expected to bring much-needed relief to communities frequently impacted by straying wild animals.

On an experimental basis, it will first come up at some selected places (70-metre stretch) under the Irulam Forest Station, Chedelath Range, South Wayanad Division.

The department said such fences would come up in those areas where residents have been living in fear of unexpected encounters with wild animals such as elephants, tigers, and wild boars, which often result in fatalities and significant economic losses.

It hoped that the introduction of AI-powered solar fencing would promise a new era of safety and coexistence.

Also read: Joint SoP for K’taka, Kerala, TN to manage human-wildlife conflict


According to an official of Chedelath Range, the AI-powered solar fencing is the first of its kind in the nation. It has been named ELE-Fence.


Click to enlarge.

“The solar-powered fences are equipped with advanced AI technology that detects the approach of wild animals,” the official told South First.

“When an animal comes close to the fenced area, the system immediately alerts the residents via their mobile phones. This early warning system allows people to take necessary precautions and avoid potentially dangerous encounters,” he explained.

The system would also alert the Rapid Response Team of the Forest Department.

Alerts are just one part of the preventive mechanism.

The fencing would also be equipped with alarms and bright lights, which would be triggered by an animal’s presence. This multi-sensory approach has been designed to scare away animals before they could even attempt to breach the barrier.

“In addition to mobile alerts, the fencing system features integrated alarms and lights designed to scare away the approaching animals. The combination of sound and visual deterrents has proved effective in preventing animals from crossing into human habitats,” the official added.

Also Read: The elephantine problem of the Idukki district in Kerala

Durable mechanism

However, the unique feature of the new fencing would be its elastic wire mesh, which would prevent animals from breaking them. It would also withstand damage in cases like treefalls.

Moreover, the fence would conduct a mild electric current delivering a harmless but effective shock to animals coming into contact with it. I would deter even large animals, such as elephants, without harming them.

“Speaking about the fence’s durability, the highlight is the use of elastic wire mesh. This design choice makes it difficult for animals to break through the fence with brute force. Additionally, a small electric current runs through the mesh. While not harmful, it delivers a mild shock that discourages animals, like elephants, from holding onto the fence for extended periods,” said the official.

The fence would also overcome challenges posed by marshy lands and tough terrains.

“The fence will come up at 12 feet height. It will have a solar panel, solar power wire, heavy-duty cargo weatherproof lasher each up to 10-tonne holding capacity, which was woven horizontally and vertically, lights and touch sirens,” added the official.

Also Read: Kerala Forest Department partners with NGOs to restore ecosystems

Human-wild animal conflict

According to the Kerala Economic Review 2023, the human-wildlife interface was a complex issue, and the conflicts were increasing annually.

Analysing the scenario during 2022-23, the report noted that snakebites were a major cause of human death, and elephant attacks were the major cause of crop damage.

Also Read: Life in the shadow of sabre-toothed predators

Spurt in wildlife population

It further observed that wildlife population growth, habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and the resultant environmental impact along with cropping pattern changes were reported as the major causes of the rising human-wildlife conflict.

In 2022-23, 8,873 incidents were reported in the state, including 98 human casualties. The Forest Department disbursed ₹10.49 crore as compensation for human deaths and injuries, cattle loss, and crop damages.

At the same time, the year-wise data of the Forest Department for the past seven years noted that 716 human lives were lost due to conflict with wild animals.

On the early warning alert system, the report stated that to tackle the human-wild animal conflict issue, such a system was presently underway at various divisions including Punalur, Konni, Marayoor, Palakkad, Thiruvananthapuram, Munnar and Wayanad.

Also Read: Kerala blames spurt in animal population for man-wildlife conflicts

More units in the offing

It has been found effective in high elephant conflict areas and the department has proposed 42 more such units in different parts of the state.

At the same time, a report of the Kerala State Planning Board that discussed human-wildlife interactions noted that an analysis of threats to biodiversity conservation and management of natural resources in various Forest Divisions of Kerala showed that human-wildlife conflict was a threat in almost all divisions, especially in Wayanad and the rest of the northern region.

It was also highlighted that a more recent phenomenon was the proliferation of conflict issues in areas far removed from forest fringes.

Due to a combination of factors like abandoned farmlands, massive accumulation of garbage, the behaviour of species involved (generalists) and their breeding success, conflict-creating species like wild boar, bonnet macaque, peafowl, etc., which were hitherto confined to forest fringes, have migrated to these new habitats and started successfully breeding there.

They have started establishing new populations away from forest fringes. Hence serious conflict issues have moved from forest fringes to faraway settlements and even urban areas. Hence, conflict could no longer be treated as a purely forest-fringe phenomenon.

However, with new technology in place, the Forest Department expressed hope that it would be a significant step towards sustainable coexistence between humans and wild animals.

Also Read: MoEF to use Salim Ali centre for mitigating human-animal conflicts

‘No fool-proof measures’

Speaking to South First, PA Vinayan, researcher and president of the Ferns Nature Conservation Society in Wayanad, said no measure, whether it be barriers, deep trenches, or solar-powered fencing, could be 100 percent effective in mitigating human-wildlife conflicts.

“Each terrain requires its unique mitigation measures. Among the various techniques employed to prevent wild animals from encroaching into human habitats, solar fencing has proven to be comparatively effective. However, this doesn’t imply it should be implemented statewide,” he opined.

Despite solar fencing, Vinayan pointed out incidents of recurring wild animal attacks.

“In most cases, these solar fences fail to function properly due to a lack of continuous monitoring and maintenance,” he added.

Vinayan highlighted that any fencing, AI-powered or solar, required constant maintenance. “This requires both manpower and adequate funding.”

He also stressed the importance of forest authorities conducting thorough analyses before erecting solar fences.

“They must study the terrain to ensure the installation doesn’t obstruct animal movement. Free passage for animals must be maintained. This means that in some areas, conventional solar fencing might work, while in others, hanging solar fencing could be more suitable. Decisions must be made based on extensive analysis,” Vinayan concluded.

Also Read: Human-drawn boundaries won’t resolve human-animal conflicts

Concerns raised

On concerns about potential threats solar fencing might pose to wildlife, Vinayan said when used according to regulatory guidelines, it was not harmful.

“The law mandates that only a low voltage of current be passed through the energiser, the core component of solar fencing. This current produces a mild shock and is not continuous, allowing animals to escape easily. While there have been incidents where animals have become trapped and lost their lives, these cases are not prevalent,” he explained.

However, he issued a stern warning against solar fences that bypass the energiser and use a direct electrical supply illegally.

“These fences are dangerous, delivering high voltage that threatens both animals and humans. They are primarily used by private parties and result in numerous fatalities,” he cautioned.

Instances of wild animals and humans falling prey to such illegal fences have been reported in Kerala.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Karnataka, the high court has initiated a suo motu PIL following repeated electrocution of elephants.

On June 14, a division bench comprising Chief Justice NV Anjaria and Justice KV Aravind expressed serious concern over the recurring elephant deaths, and raised several questions highlighting the gravity of these unnatural fatalities to the Union, the state, and senior officials of the Karnataka forest department.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).

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