By Risidra Mendis
"The elephant died due to a wound that had developed around the animal's neck where the radio collar had being fitted. We believe that the radio collar on the animal caused a wound on its neck. The small wound on the animal's neck got bigger gradually and festered. The wound was not visible as it was under the radio collar. The infection spread to the animal's body and it died," Wildlife officials said. "In 1995 radio tracking of elephants was introduced in Sri Lanka. Radio collars were put on elephants and the animals' behaviour patterns and movements were monitored by the researchers. It is after about 20 years that I heard that an elephant has died due to a wound caused by a radio collar. There is no way that a collar can cause a wound on the neck of the animal as the radio collar is smooth and doesn't cause scratch marks on the animal. The animal can however suffocate if the required space between the radio collar and the animal's neck is not kept when the collar is being fitted. Suffocation due to the radio collar can also happen if a collar is put on a juvenile animal and not removed when the animal starts getting bigger. But as this elephant is around 30 years old it is not a juvenile animal.
If the elephant had a wound on its neck it would take a long period of time for the animal to develop an infection and septicaemia or toxaemia to develop. After the infection develops the animal will eventually collapse and die several weeks later due to a lack of food and water. After the radio collar is fitted the researchers have to regularly monitor the elephant. If regular monitoring of the animal was done this elephant could have been saved as the researchers would have seen a wound developing around the neck of the animal.The death of this elephant is due to the mismanagement of the Wildlife officers and the researchers and not the result of the collar. A baby elephant released from the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Uda Walawe was saved when he got stuck in a mud hole because he had a radio collar and was regularly being monitored," Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) former Deputy Director and Elephant Expert Dr. Nandana Atapattu told Ceylon Today.
Wildlife officers however claim that they always ensure that the required space between the animal'sneck and the collar is maintained when the radio collar is fixed and have ruled out the possibility of the animal being suffocated.
So far 27 radio collars
"From 1996 to 2015 the DWLC has fitted 27 radio collars on elephants. When we removed some radio collars from the juvenile elephants released from the ETH we noticed small wounds developing on the necks of some of the animals. We have to conduct an investigation to see why these wounds are developing," Wildlife officers said.
"The radio collar consists of a thick leather band of several pieces compressed together and consists of a radio transmitter, a sensitive antenna and a battery which is hidden inside the collar and is seen externally as a bulge. The collar can be adjusted depending on the size of the neck. The width of four fingers is kept between the neck of the elephant and the collar when fitting a radio collar on an elephant. The collaring of elephants differs from one animal to another depending on the age. The elephant has to be tranquilized prior to the fitting of the radio collar. But when the elephant recovers from the anaesthesia the animal will try to remove the collar because he is not used to having a collar round his neck. But after about two to three weeks the animal gets used to the collar. Once the animal is fitted with a radio collar the transmitter gives out signals which can be picked up by a radio receiver. However, the sound of the transmitter can differ from one to another. One radio receiver can monitor 99 elephants.
Within a radius of two kilometres signals from the radio monitored collars can be heard. An earphone has to be used within the two kilometre radius to monitor the movements of the elephants. When you get closer to the animal the signals are very high and the signals can be heard without the use of a microphone. However, if the elephant is covered by a hillock the signals cannot be heard. In such cases the researcher has to climb the hillock to track the elephant. A radio collared elephant can be monitored for two to three years," Dr. Atapattu explained.
He added that a radio collared elephant has to be regularly monitored by the research teams. "The research teams are allowed to enter national parks to monitor the movements and behaviour patterns of the elephants.After two years the battery on the radio collar has to be replaced or the collar has to be removed. When the battery on the collar is dead the collar becomes an ordinary collar. But there are many elephants that still have collars that are no longer active. These non-working collars are not harmful to the elephants but are a nuisance to the animals. The researchers have to regularly monitor the elephants and inform the DWLC when the battery on the radio collars stop working. It is the responsibility of the researchers to inform the DWLC the location of the elephants whose collars are not functioning so that DWLC officers can tranquilize these animals and remove the collars or replace the batteries on the collars. In many cases the researchers gather data from the radio collars for their PHD'S but don't give the data to the DWLC. These researchers are not worried about the welfare of the animals but are only interested in their personal agendas. The DWLC and researchers have to take responsibility for the death of this animal. The question however is will the DWLC start monitoring the remaining radio collared animals regularly to prevent another death of an elephant from taking place," he said in conclusion.
Ceylon Today was unable to contact DWLC Director General H.D. Ratnayake for a comment.