With the Union Civil Aviation Ministry yet to decide on its request to 'tweak' some clauses in the newly-formulated 'The Drone Regulations 1.0' for 'hassle-free' deployment of the high-tech gadgets to keep an eye on the poachers and for better wildlife management, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is mulling over bringing all the tiger reserves (50 overall) under the surveillance of the unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) as per the existing norms itself.
"We will soon hold a meeting with the Ministry to get the approval for deployment of drones in all the tiger reserves within the existing norms as our request to tweak the new drone policy is yet to be accepted," said sources in the NTCA.
Following the announcement of the 'The Drone Regulations 1.0' late last year, the NTCA and Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had represented before the Civil Aviation Ministry alleging that the policy in its present format "does not augur well for the functioning of the government's wildlife agencies like them which are engaged in curbing wildlife crime and habitat management including human-animal conflicts".
They had sought permissions such as allowing it to fly the drones in night, in protected areas and along international borders sharing the boundaries of Indian tiger reserves. They also insisted that maintaining "full visual line of sight" at all times, as prescribed in the new guidelines, is impractical.
Presently, under the NTCA's e-bird project, Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is implementing complete drone camera surveillance in tiger reserves. The WII is providing required number of drone cameras to all the tiger reserves and also give training to the forest staff. So far, drones have been installed in five tiger reserves—Rajaji, Dudhwa , Panna, Kaziranga and Sathamangalam forests in Tamil Nadu.
The sources said while the UAVs are fast becoming a necessary hi-tech tool in wildlife management all over the world, the new drone policy has completely ignored entities (NTCA and WII) as security agencies.
Wildlife experts say that the aim of drones is to make the system easy for conservationists and foresters to allow endangered animals to be tracked and monitored easily, and proactive way to stop poaching. This will also help keep a tab on movement of animals in the villages, preventing human-animal conflicts.
For instance, in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (DTR) in Uttar Pradesh drone cameras are assisting the patrolling teams to keep a watch on the movement of tigers, leopards, rhinos, jumbos and other wild species. This will further help in habitat management, countering man-animal conflicts and checking criminal activities.
The Kaziranga National Park in Assam had already been using UAVs to keep a vigil on areas of the forest that are difficult to access by foot for the past five years. Poaching has been a big problem for the park which saw over 500 rhinos being killed in the last two decades.
Similarly, Rajaji and Corbett Tiger Reserves too have deployed the unmanned gadgets to keep a tab on anti-social elements lurking the tiger habitats. These are also keeping an eye on checking illegal mining, tree felling, poaching and other anti-wildlife and anti-environment activities. It will patrol high altitude areas of the state.
Ranthambore, Similipal, Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam, Bandipur, Parambikulam, Namdapha, and Sundarbans too have already got the Ministry's nod for deployment of drones.