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Radio collars, best and effective tool for tracking wildlife, says expert

Man-animal conflict is gradually increasing but little has been done technically to study animal behaviour. The government is spending crores of rupees annually to put an end to man-animal conflicts. But, there has been no investment in research and technological advancement in studying the behaviour of the animals.

Radio collars, best and effective tool for tracking wildlife, says expert
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An elephant fitted with a radio collar (file photo)

Coimbatore

There has been no scientific approach to analyse the problem and find a solution, says Ajay Desai, former Co-chair of the Asia Elephant Specialists Group.

Desai, who is a consultant with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), has been studying elephants for close to 35 years. He told DTNext that in the early days of his study (1984–1990) he was observing the elephants only in the manual mode. 

“Introduction of radio collars revolutionised the studies. What we studied using radio collars in a year was what it would have taken 10-15 years in the conventional mode,” he explained. 

Radio collars, though expensive, are the most reliable technology to study elephants in Asia. At this juncture, he said that countries with thick elephant population such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia were making optimum use of radio collars – to study movement of elephants, unlike India. 

Radio collars made of rubber and cotton are powered by a battery. The signalling device costs between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh, he elaborated. “But radio collars have proved to be efficient in monitoring the movement of herds and families till they are on the animals. There are a host of factors that determine the radio collar staying on the animal. 

The first and foremost is that the collar should not cause the even mildest inconvenience to the animal,” he said. He said  cow elephants stop growing after they turn 20 or 22 as they get matured for reproduction. However, males grow till they are 50.  “Their neck size will increase 10 inches for every one foot taller as they grow. So, we have to consider it and fit the collar accordingly. 

But, this also gives a chance for the collar to get dropped from the animal when they go for a bath or brush their bodies against a tree,” he said. 

On the other hand it is not easy to radio collar an elephant as the animal’s movement has to be monitored before it is tranquilized as any small mistake in choosing the terrain could cost the life of the animal. “We should make use of available opportunities like translocation when we could radio collar it,” he added. 

Thermal sensors mooted to reduce elephant deaths on tracks
By K Praveen Kumar
 
The forest department is launching a pilot project to prevent elephant deaths on railway track between Walayar and Pothanur railway stations. It will be using thermal sensors to detect animal movements near the track. 
Work orders in this regard have already been issued and based on the efficacy of the project, it would be extended further, a senior forest official told DT Next. The cost outlay of the pilot project is about Rs.3 to 5 lakh, said sources. As per the project plan, thermal sensors will be fixed along the track. These will detect the body heat of any living object and alert the officials. The department has already erected a watch tower in the locality and will depute two persons to monitor the thermal sensors. 
“The sensors can detect the body heat of animals at a distance of 500 metres on either side of the track. Forest guards, who monitor these sensors, will pass the information to the Walayar railway station. The concerned loco pilot will then be informed about the movement of animals,” S Ramasubramaniam , conservator of forests, Coimbatore division, said. At present, the trains pass at a speed of 80 km per hour between these two stations. 
When the loco-pilots are informed about the animal movement they will reduce the speed to 30 - 40 km per hour. 
“This gives more reaction time for the elephants and the loco-pilots,” Ramasurbamaniam said. The forest department has been exploring several options to prevent elephants from being run over between Walayar and Pothanur. 
The railway track here passes through an elephant corridor and the department had explored the option of constructing an elevated elephant passage to avoid them crossing the track. The proposal has been submitted to the railways but no decision has been taken yet. 

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