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One of India’s most sacred animals is running into a very real problem: trains


India's biggest animals are running into a very real problem - trains.


Yeah, Indian elephants are classified as an endangered species. And their habitats are slowly shrinking as new railways get built across the country.

DANA WILSON: There are other animals getting killed, obviously. But elephants are a very visible symbol of what's going on.

MARTIN: That's Dana Wilson. He is the communications director at Wildlife SOS. That's an India-based elephant conservatory. More than 200 elephants were killed in train collisions over the last decade, according to government data.

MARTÍNEZ: Wilson says India's growing human population is a key problem.

WILSON: It's just an extremely densely packed country with wild animals moving in and out of urban spaces.

MARTIN: So how can humans and elephants better cohabitate? Indian railways are turning to artificial intelligence for help.

MARTÍNEZ: The southern state of Tamil Nadu has implemented an AI-enabled system that alerts train conductors when elephants and other animals wander near or on the tracks. It uses sensors and cameras.

WILSON: It's a really good way to make extremely rapid decisions that are analytical. And that's where these early warning systems, the potential for AI there is huge - where it could recognize sounds, sight throughout railroad tracks and warn train operators that there are elephants on the tracks.

MARTIN: It is only the latest such effort to protect wildlife in the country. In December, the Federal Railway Ministry argued it was deploying an AI-based surveillance system at elephant corridors in several states. Wilson says that in northeastern India, the systems can predict elephants with almost 100% accuracy.

MARTÍNEZ: The railway system hopes to increase its detecting capability to more than 5,000 kilometers - or more than 3,100 miles - over the next three years. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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