The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is awaiting a final nod from the Ministry of Defence to start its ambitious drone monitoring project for combating wildlife poaching and man-animal conflict.
“The Ministry had asked us to get clearances from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the Home Ministry.
We have got them recently and now a final approval is awaited from the MoD,” Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII) scientist K Ramesh, in-charge of the project, told PTI from Dehradun.
NTCA had last week signed an MoU with WII to start monitoring by drones in five tiger reserves of Panna, Jim Corbett National Park, Kaziranga, Sundarbans and the Sathyamangalam forest of Tamil Nadu.
A budget of Rs 3.5 crore has been earmarked for the project. Hoping that they will get the approval in the next couple of months, Ramesh said flying missions can start operations in the next six months. Fitted with GPS device and hi-resolution cameras, the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also known as drones, are fast becoming a necessary hi-tech tool in wildlife management all over the world.
“We will have to train the forest department staff to handle the equipment and utilize the technology. The drones will be imported, but assembled by us. We will customize it to suit the geographic and the specific requirements of the tiger reserves,” the scientist said.
The NTCA have sought permission to fly only within the boundary of the core area of the forest reserves.
“The surveillance would be outside of the human habitat area and so there is no question of intruding into the privacy of forest dwellers,” Ramesh said.
Before deployment, a team will map out the risk zones for poaching and conflict, he said. Each drone will need a team of three biologists and as many engineers. Two years ago, they had successfully conducted a trial run of drones at Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
Following that, WII is improvising on its UAVs to include additional features like night vision capability, landing capacity, increased duration and speed of flights, etc. According to official data, it is estimated that India had 2,226 tigers left in 2014. The project, if successful in the first pilot phase in the five tiger reserves, will be scaled up later on.