Launching the ‘Crowd-sourced Elephant Monitoring and Early Warning System’

On Friday, 13-06-2014, at Gene pool, Nadugani, Gudalur, a training session was help for forest department staff to talk about early warnign systems that could be used to reduce human-elephant conflict.

About the meeting and agenda

The meeting was conducted to introduce the ‘Crowd Sourced Elephant Monitoring and Early Warning System’ as a part of the Human Elephant Coexistence project by The Shola Trust. Range officers, foresters and guards from all five ranges (Bitherkad, Gudalur, O’Valley, Pandalur and Cherambadi) attended the meeting, head of all the Panchayats were also invited. Mr. Bomman and some other adivasi leaders also came for the meeting. The main presentations were made by Mr. Tarsh from The Shola Trust (TST), Mr. Timothy Vedanayagam from Advantech and Mr. Hrishkesh from Swatantra Malayalam Computing.

The meeting was started about 3:00 pm, Mr. Rangaswamy range officer, Pandalur range initiated the session by giving an introducing note about the meeting.

Mr. Tarsh then spoke about the present status of elephant problem that exist in this region and few measures that can be taken to prevent such problems. He also explained briefly about the CEMEWS system that can be introduced.

To set up the software for this system two software experts from Kerala worked with TST, namely Mr. Manoj and Mr. Hrishikesh. Mr. Hrishikesh gave a presentation on the technical aspects of the software and the CEMEWS system.

Mr.Timothy Vedanayagam then talked about the hardware they have installed for detection and early warning of elephant movement.

How do these systems work?

The detection hardware by Mr. Vedanayagam is installed at some 11 places in Gudalur Division, which will give a siren warning and also send an SMS when elephants come. There are two types of detectors. One is for flat areas, where two infra red beams of light are passed at a height of 5ft and 7ft, with a receptor kept at a distance of about 100 m to up to 250 m. If both beams are block when the elephant passes, then it will trigger the system. The other type is for very uneven areas, and called a proximity sensor. It is a single unit placed at a high point, and will trigger if anything moves within about 12-15m from it. The sensitivity can be adjusted so it only triggers when big animals like elephant or gaur moves.

The CEMEWS system is just being started by TST. The forest watchers for each beat are supposed to have a knowledge about elephants movements – whether they are near a village, road or plantations. They should know the grid names given to different parts of their beat, as each beat is split in about 5-8 1×1 sq km grids. When they see elephants they should send a SMS to a specific number in a particular format. This format can be saved on their phone and kept. The server receives the message and automatically these messages onto the our website and also saves the message in a database. The software on the website will then look at the grid number, and then send out warning SMS to any people who have registered their mobile number from the neighbouring grids.

Both systems can work well together to send out warnings to people when elephants approach.

Response to the systems

Live demo was done for both the systems. All the numbers of all the staff present were collected, and some people were asked to send SMS in the given format. Based on this SMS was automatically sent to staff in the respective beats. Mr. Timothy also installed the detectors outside the building, to show the staff how they worked.

The forest officials asked few doubts and all were cleared by Mr. Timothy and Mr. Tarsh. The main problem they said was that ‘what can the staff do with getting SMS messages?’. People in the area are all ready to fight with forest department, and everyday they are getting phone calls to chase the elephants back into forests. But there is no forest left and there is nowhere to chase elephants. They also said there are many other problems in the forest department, that cannot easily be fixed. Like many ranges have not equipment or jeeps to even go to the spot when elephants come. Some have jeeps, but then have no drivers or diesel allowance. Unless all these other problems in the department are sorted out the elephant problems will continue.

Mr. Tarsh explained that this was only an early warning system, to inform the public about the elephant movement in certain areas, so they can be careful when coming back in the night or going to toilet in the morning, since most accidents with elephants happen at this time.

The staff thought it maybe useful to have this system, but it will not solve the problem fully.

Others from TST were there and gave support for organising the meeting – Girish Sampath, Ramesh Madan, B. Arunkumar and R.Manikandan.

Written by Subin Kappala, while doing an internship at The Shola Trust.

Learn More

Decoding Lantana Furniture

As an organization trying to promote use of lantana furniture/crafts we get bombarded with a number of queries on the nature of the material. There seems to be little awareness about this material/furniture outside conservation circles and hence this FAQ:

Is it cane/bamboo furniture?

“THIS IS NOT CANE/BAMBOO FURNITURE”. The looks might be misleading and many people pass the furniture off as cane or bamboo furniture at first glance but “IT IS NOT”.

Is it Durable/Will it break if I sit on it?

Lantana camara looks very bushy/thorny and it might seem hard to believe that it could be used for furniture. But hidden inside the bushy exterior are stems of varying thickness which when boiled become extremely strong and perfect for furniture. We have been regularly involved in the marketing of lantana furniture for the last seven years and we know from experience/feedback that it is a really durable material. We suggest you buy a chair from us for a sample and experience its strength/durability and put this question to rest forever!

How long will it last?

We have seen lantana furniture which is more than 10 years old. We ourselves use lantana furniture in our office which is more than 5 years old. It is really hard to put a number to it. But we can definitely say that it is not something that becomes weaker over the years, and is definitely comparable to or even better than cane or bamboo.  It might just become duller over the years but one can always varnish it to give a fresher look just like any other natural material.

Can it be exposed directly to rainfall?

No, the furniture should not be directly exposed to rainfall if you want to maximize its durability.

Does the furniture only use lantana?

No, the joints are bound by cane but the rest of the furniture is completely made from lantana sticks.

Would it get termites/pests?

Lantana plants contains some compounds (lantanadene A and B) which make them inedible by any herbivores, and this seems to also make it pest/termite proof. In the 15 odd years Lantana furniture has been around there are no reported instances of pests.

Is it chemically treated?

Lantana is a different material as compared to bamboo or cane and does not require any chemical treatment as it is safe from pest/termite attacks. The lantana sticks are only boiled with water and no other treatment is required.

What are the various color finishes we can have with lantana furniture?

Currently, the natural colour is light brown, but it can be made a little yellower or even  (rose wood colour) by adding some stainers into the varnish.

Is lantana furniture “eco-friendly”?

These days everything needs to be tagged “eco-friendly”, though exactly what this means is ambiguous! Assuming it means a minimal negative effect on the earth while manufacturing, Lantana furniture will probably be “eco-friendly++”.  Its use/extraction from the forests helps in removal of one of the worst invasive species in the world. And at the same time it helps provide local indigenous communities with a livelihood option. So buying this furniture has a net positive effect on the earth!

In summary: Lantana furniture is extremely durable, has a good natural/earthy look, is eco-friendly++, affordable and is definitely worth trying as an alternative to other materials currently available in the market!

To get your lantana furniture you can contact us:Girish Sampath – 09677262451.

We put a pause to our marketing here!

Lantana sofa;single seater chair

Learn More

Lantana briquetting; Invasive weed control to sustainable energy

Lantana camara is an invasive weed that is taking over numerous forests in India. The forest department has been trying to eradicate the plant for over a hundred years now in south India, but with no success, as the plant continues to spread. At TST, we’ve been trying to find uses for the plant and to get local people to cut and extract the plant in the hope that this will control the plant in the forests, while also help local communities. Lantana furniture was the first initiative, and we are now looking to convert Lantana into briquettes to use as a fuel source.

Here is an outline of the briquetting process that we hope will be useful for other communities/NGOs looking to do similar things.

The briquetting industry is flourishing in India. Agricultural activities create a number of waste products like dried leaves, branches/stalks, small twigs etc. Generally all this cut waste is directly burnt which is wasteful and also harmful to the environment. Biomass briquettes are an environment friendly, efficient solution to recycling agriculture and forest waste while simultaneously creating clean fuel for burning purposes. These days a number of industries are using bio-mass briquettes for generating heat in their boilers. These compact and easy to use bio-mass briquettes can also be used at the household level for cooking fuel as an alternative for firewood. And when we consider the ordeal many tribal communities face in gathering increasingly scarce firewood from distant places, briquettes seem to be an easier alternative and a solution with significant social impact. Rural areas which are generally blessed with rich natural resources can look at bio-mass briquetting as an option with good potential to generate livelihood especially since the technology is fairly simple. Any bio-mass has to be dried to bring it to a suitable moisture content (10-15%) and then ground to suitable size. The dust is filtered out and then a pressing machine is used to apply pressure on the powdered bio-mass to compact it into briquettes. The pressure when applied releases lignin from within the bio-mass which binds the material together. In certain bio-mass materials an artificial binder has to be used to compact it together.


Some pointers to keep in mind while planning for a bio-mass briquetting project

  •  It is important to map the bio-mass which is to be used as a raw material and ensure that a sizeable quantity is available. Adequate availability of raw material is the single most important factor to be considered while planning for a briquetting project.
  • Bio-mass briquetting is a thin margin industry and it is important to ensure that the customers are present close to the production centers. Logistics forms an important part of the costs and it is important to ensure that the raw material source, production unit and the customers are as close as possible to eliminate unnecessary logistics costs.
  • There are technology options available ranging from processing a few kilos of bio-mass in a day to large scale industrialized production systems which process hundreds of tons. The technology option to be selected should be based on the project requirements. Especially while determining the scale; it would be important to consider one’s bandwidth for collection and loading of bio-mass. It is important to ensure that there is an option to fix maintenance issues in the machines in a timely manner.
  • To ensure good quality briquettes the size (10 mm) and moisture content of the raw material (10-15%) being input in the pressing machine should be kept within limits. Otherwise it would result in loosening or breakage of the briquette.
  • In general the costs can be broken down to Raw material extraction and loading cost (per kg) + transportation of material to briquetting unit/machine (per kg) + Processing cost( (including drying) per kg of material) + Packaging, marketing and delivery costs (per kg). The addition of the above costs would give your per kg cost of the briquette.
  •  It might be useful to consider the rainfall patterns in the region as it would have an impact on the moisture content in the raw material and hence affect the drying process Also check the power availability/outages in the region if one is going for an electrical production system as any downtime would affect the viability of the project.
  •  Market acceptability of the product and customer satisfaction is the key to the success of any commercial project. Even though briquetting seems to be a good opportunity, before investing money it is advisable to locate the customers, understand their requirements and probably let them test some briquettes for constructive feedback.                                                                                                                                                                                                    (This blog is just to give one a broad overview of bio-mass briquetting and is not exhaustive by any standards. The briquetting technology set up at Tamil nadu agricultural university, Coimbatore may be a good starting point to understand briquetting. Please find below a few snapshots of what a briquette looks like.)


Briquette Briquettes



Learn More