Siddapura: Concerned at the increasing instances of elephant-human conflict, the Forest Department, for the first time in Kodagu, has put radio collars on elephants to study their migration patterns.
The Department has decided to put radio collars on selected elephants so that their migration patterns can be studied. An analysis of their movements will help in avoiding human-elephant conflict that results in deaths of humans and damage to crops, said Department officials.
Accordingly, over six elephants that usually enter coffee estates and fields have been radio-collared in places including Virajpet, Madikeri, Kushalnagar, Maldare, Ammathi & Pollibetta. These areas have witnessed increased elephant attacks in the recent past.
The collars were fitted on the wild pachyderms with the help of tamed elephants including Bhima, Abhimanyu and Krishna. Last time, over four collars were fitted on the elephants and the Department staff was able to successfully track the elephant movements and prevented them from entering the human habitats.
Department officials said that radio collars could further strengthen the elephant corridor management strategy. It could also become an early warning system for villagers in order to avoid conflict with elephants as the collars could provide real-time information. Radio-collaring of animals is a tried and tested method of studying free-ranging wild animals that has been in practice for several decades. It is primarily used for tracking the movement and activity patterns of the tagged animal, with the signals being sent to a handheld device or to a computer via a satellite.
It is often the only method that is available for studying the movement and activity patterns of a secretive species like the tiger or a wide-ranging species like the elephant. Information obtained from the use of radio telemetry is of high scientific and conservation value. The GPS-enabled radio collars will provide updates in real-time about the location of a herd and help track them within the State as well as during migration. A tool embedded in the collar will send signals 24X7.
“Once we receive signals on the presence of the elephant herd near human habitation, the ground-level Rapid Response Team of the Dept. will be alerted on their mobile phones so that they can rush to the place and launch an operation to drive elephants back into the woods,” said District Forest Officer Maria Kristhu Raj.
The kumkis (tamed elephants) will infiltrate the herd and scatter the elephants. When the female leader is isolated, the experts perched on the nearest kumki will shoot her with a dart loaded with a tranquilizing drug called xylazine. The dosage will be decided according to the size and strength of the matriarch. “After being hit, the elephant will walk like it is intoxicated for 10 minutes and then it will fall asleep. So, our men have a window of about 40 minutes to put the radio collar on the elephant,” he explained.
“In the 40 minutes the animal was under sedation, the team fixed the radio collar and activated it. Soon, veterinarians injected a drug to revive it. The entire operation was over in 50 minutes and the animal started heading back into the forests,” the DFO added.