Rail fences mooted to rein in elephants

State Board for Wildlife member submits proposal
A wild elephant crossing the railway track at Walayar in Palakkad
A wild elephant crossing the railway track at Walayar in Palakkad

Palakkad (PGT): A fence using discarded rails of Railways has been proposed to prevent elephants from entering human habitations. The proposal, by P.O. Nameer, a member of the State Board for Wildlife, has been submitted to the board.

Rails would be more economical and environment-friendly than trenches, solar electric fences, and elephant-proof walls, which are only partially successful, said Dr.Nameer. Trenches and fences require regular maintenance and trenches are ineffective near streams and in sloping terrain. Walls are expensive (a one-km-long wall costs Rs.1.3 crore) and can lead to fragmentation of the habitat.

A kilometre-long rail fence costs Rs.61.17 lakh, with the rails priced at Rs.58.37 lakh. If rails can be obtained at concessional rates through government negotiations, the fence could be set up at a cheaper rate, the proposal said.

Karnataka has tried the method in its human-elephant conflict areas, he said. The fence would have horizontal rails fixed at a height of 0.6m, 1.35m, and 2.1m from the ground. At every 9 metres, it would have five vertical supports, 3 metres tall. The supports can be fixed using cement concrete. The horizontal rails can be bolted on the vertical supports, according to the proposal.

The fences are ecologically sustainable as they do not hamper the movement of the non-target species, the proposal said.

Human-elephant conflicts are mostly reported from Wayanad and Palakkad districts. People residing in forest fringes complain that elephants destroy their crops and damage properties. At times, loss of life is also reported.

Solar fences

The Forest Department has erected solar electric fences in 200 km in the State. Last year, the Kerala Forest Development Corporation extended the fence to 35 km in Wayanad district alone following reports of human-elephant conflict.

Rail fencing has not been tried anywhere in Kerala, and could be tried on an experimental basis, said an official involved in erecting solar electric fences.

B.S. Corrie, Chief of Forest Force, said the proposal had been sent for comments from regional forest offices. A decision would be taken after evaluating the cost-effectiveness and availability of rails, he said.