After three people died in attacks by elephants in the Indian state of Kerala in the last three weeks, local authorities hope hundreds of new cameras and intense patrolling will help combat the problem, which has sparked protests.

In the most recent incident, a 52-year-old tourist guide was fatally attacked by a herd of elephants on Friday in the town of Pulpally in the forested Wayanad region, local media reported.

Thousands of people blocked roads in the town on Saturday and vandalised a vehicle belonging to the forest department to protest against the incident, with police resorting to baton charging to disperse the crowd, reports said.

Environmental activists, however, blame deforestation as the root cause of the problem, saying elephants are being driven off their natural habitat into more built-up areas.

At a meeting on Saturday convened by state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, it was decided that 250 "advanced cameras" will be installed along forest borders and wildlife corridors to monitor the movement of animals.

Nearly 55% of Kerala, a state of 35 million people, is covered by forest, according to the Forest Survey of India's 'India State of Forest Report 2021'.

"The chief minister has also ordered round-the-clock patrolling of state forests," Vijayan's office said in a statement on Saturday.

At least 67 people died in wild elephant attacks in Kerala between 2020 and 2022, Deputy Forest Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey said in parliament in December.

Environmental activist N Badusha says "massive degradation of forests" in the region is affecting the elephant population.

"Habitats of wild animals have shrunk, forcing them to enter human settlements for food and water," he said.

Kerala's forest minister said last year that Wayanad's elephant population had dropped to just 1,920 from 3,322 in 2017, local media reported. In Kerala state as a whole, the number of elephants more than halved between 2017 and 2023 to just 2,386, according to a census conducted by Kerela's forest department, reports said.

In other measures announced by the chief minister on Saturday, "neighbourhood-level WhatsApp groups" and public address systems will be used in Kerala to warn people about the movement of wild animals and alert them to any danger.

($1 = 82.9770 Indian rupees)

(Writing by Sakshi Dayal; Editing by YP Rajesh and Susan Fenton)