rmsi: Assam bets on drones to protect wildlife, ropes in RMSI to find ideal ones

How does Assam plan to protect its fauna and flora? By using drones to monitor and track wildlife and stray animals, assess forest resources and plantations, prevent poaching, and detect encroachments among others.

The northeastern state has roped in global geographic information systems (GIS) consulting company RMSI to recommend competitive technical specifications for drones to be used for wildlife conservation and forest and plantation monitoring, a top executive at the firm told ET.

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The company will “evaluate different drone technologies and different platforms to see which is the most appropriate one for wildlife management”, Anup Jindal, CEO and joint managing director of RMSI, said.

Assam is among a handful states to utilise drones for forest management, and its four-year project with RMSI to develop a forest and plantation information management system for the Assam Project for Forest and Biodiversity Conservation (APFBC) using the latest technologies is perhaps the most extensive one yet in the country.

“This is the first time drones are being used in fulfilling key objectives of wildlife conservation and plantation monitoring, including conducting wildlife surveillance, tracking and monitoring stray animals, detecting encroachments, and assessing forest resources,” Jindal said.

The idea being to track and protect wildlife which could possibly form a blueprint that can be adopted by other states too.

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For technical evaluation, RMSI has done proof of concept (POC) to validate the feasibility and effectiveness of different drone options and various payloads to oversee and maintain multiple forest resources and wildlife conservation aspects, Jindal said.“The five key objectives for the POC include: monitoring plantations, conducting wildlife surveillance, tracking and monitoring stray animals, detecting encroachments, and assessing forest resources,” he said. “Through advanced cameras and sensors, valuable data was gathered to generate comprehensive reports on the forest’s surveillance, health, and wellbeing and its inhabitants.”

Their project’s main requirements include monitoring and tracking wildlife, preventing poaching, monitoring elephant corridors, forest boundaries and fringe villages, reporting and validating encroachment, monitoring eviction status, and creating a multi-resource forest inventory.

Use of drones for forest management purposes has yet to go mainstream and remains negligible, but Jindal said there is a strong case for it.

“Drones in forest management revolutionise how we protect and maintain our flora and fauna in forests,” he said. “Using drones in forest management is a more efficient, accurate, and cost-effective way to manage forests that can help protect wildlife and prevent encroachment and deforestation.”

It will not only reduce reliance on human manpower but will enhance efficiency through swift data collection, improving accuracy, tracking the movements of iconic animals, and allowing remote monitoring for swift response to forest management situations, Jindal said.

This, however, does not mean traditional methodologies will cease to exist. Quite the contrary. Drones can help strengthen and implement those methods more efficiently and in a cost-effective manner, he said.

“Drones have been used in the past without gaining much insight from drone imagery,” Jindal said. “This time, the Assam government wanted to put various drones, including payloads to best use by testing them to specific use-case objectives.”

As per the state website, Assam is home to three tiger reserves – Manas, Nameri, and Kaziranga (which is famous for its one-horned rhinoceros – as well as five elephant reserves – Chirang-Ripu, Sonitpur, Dining Patkai, Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong, and Dhansiri-Lungding. The state has the second-highest number of elephants in the country after Karnataka with the population estimated to be over 5,700.

Earlier this year, state forest minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said 1,330 elephants have died between 2001 and 2022, with the highest number of deaths reported in 2013 when 107 pachyderm died, followed by 97 in 2016 and 92 in 2014.

Out of these, 509 died of natural causes, 261 succumbed to unknown reasons, 202 were electrocuted, 102 died in train accidents, 65 died due to poisoning, 40 were poached, and 18 died after being hit by lightning.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the number of wild Asiatic elephants has dipped below 50,000, which is just 15% of its historic average. Wild Asiatic elephants are primarily found in India and in some parts of Southeast Asia.