Saving lives with WhatsApp

Why this project was important

The Anamalai Hills in Tamil Nadu, southern India is a critical conservation area for the Asian elephant, but today much of the forest has been cleared for commercial plantations. At the centre lies the Valparai Plateau, which has become a mosaic of tea, coffee and cardamom estates, rainforest fragments and scattered villages. 

The fragmented nature of the land forces elephants into human-dominated landscapes in search of food and water. Elephants have adapted to cross through the mosaics of tea, coffee and crop fields, however dangerous encounters between people and elephants have become an everyday part of life. 

Human-elephant conflict is especially severe in the Hassan district in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. Between 1986 and 2011, 46 people and 17 elephants died as a result of this conflict with over 250 human and elephant injuries reported. In 2014, the worsening situation led to the capture of 22 elephants, but failed to resolve human-elephant conflict where the root cause is a lack of information about elephant presence. 

Elephant populations:
Karnataka State: 5,300 – 6,200
Anamalai landscape: 1,600 

Project Partner: Nature Conservation Foundation
Duration: 2006 – 2020 

Project goals:
To save lives, both human and elephant, in a country where co-existence is a priority for the long term benefits of both. 

What we did

We funded the pioneering work of Dr M. Ananda Kumar, who won a Whitley Award (also known as a Green Oscar) in 2015 for his innovative work to mitigate human-elephant conflict. His accessible and effective early-warning system uses low cost technology — including text messages and information boards along key stretches of roads — to warn people when elephants are in the area so they can take appropriate action.  

This project increased safety of 70,000 people as the early warning system was expanded in Valparai, where it has so far had a 100% success rate and was replicated in the highly complex and fraught landscape of Hassan. The project was the first of its kind in the region to adopts a bottom-up approach involving local communities and government agencies to promote human-elephant coexistence. 

Elephant Family also funded research into the effect that large-scale landscape changes are having on elephant behaviour in the area. Through methods including direct observation, movement tracking and measurement of stress hormone levels in dung samples, we gained insight into the herds’ general health, structure and number of births and deaths. This provided important information to managers to help alter any plans threatening elephants’ habitat.