Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jumbo decision models to protect the environment

As the population increase in India leads to scarce resources becoming scarcer, villagers in rural India increasingly encroach on jungle areas and vice-versa. In Orissa, the government has decided to take the help of elephants to manage this conflict.

This is a true story.

These magnificent, emotional multi-tuskers with a long trunk and an even longer memory, are much loved and venerated in India. Loved this particular song sequence as a kid.

Elephants require relatively larger habitats to survive, and in recent times, we increasingly hear of elephants and other wild animals in India going on the rampage among civilian populations located close to their territory.

To tackle this problem, the government of Orissa (a beautiful, culturally rich state in eastern India) came up with a novel control method based on self-governance: train 50 Col. Hathis and position them at vantage points. These smart jumbos serve dual purposes:

Online: actively discourage militant pachyderms from venturing too far out

Offline: speed up the learning curve for newbie wild elephants undergoing training.

An initial pilot has been successful.  Read this brief but amazing report for the real costs involved, benefits that can be realized, and the encouraging preliminary results.An interesting O.R. challenge is to maximize the effectiveness of this method without adding additional capital expenses. How should the forest officers position these limited number of smart elephants to maximize their effectiveness in controlling the herds? For example: given p 'Kunki' elephants, we can determine an optimal positioning of these elephants by solving the corresponding p-median like location-allocation problem to better control intrusions, cover more (convex?) territory, or utilize fewer Kunkis to effectively accomplish the same task.

Is this a first example of how OR and elephants can combine to help protect the environment?


A Jumbo-sized thanks to the brilliant and multi-talented Vijayendra Mohanty for inspiring this post.

This post is humbly dedicated to Shehla Masood (1973-2011).

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