A Bangalore-based conservation organisation is testing GPS collars that could help tackle man-elephant conflicts.
These collars are designed and developed by a team of engineers at the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering (DESE, formerly CEDT), Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The collars will be used by the Aane Mane Foundation to track the movement of tame elephants that the state government had decided to release into the wild.
Prajna Chowta of the foundation says, “The idea is to have a forecasting system, like a weather report, that could predict elephant movement. If we have an elephant herd moving into a village, people could probably be warned about them and human casualties could be prevented.”
Since 2011, the foundation has been testing the DESE elephant GPS collars in real conditions in Kodagu district and has elaborated various methods that open entirely new perspectives in the management of tamed elephants or conservation of wild elephants. Three tamed elephants, including Kalpana and Kunti, wear collars that transmit signals every two hours about their accurate positions.
Prof R Sukumar of the Centre for Environment Studies (CES), IISc, says, “My colleagues at DESE are testing these collars on captive elephants. Once the process is standardised, the idea is to tag wild elephants with GPS collars. Tagging one elephant in a herd should be enough to predict the movement of the herd.”
The Forest Department last week decided to release a few of their camp elephants into the forests.
Research by wildlife experts has shown that elephants live longer and breed better in the wild. “They calve once in 22 years in zoos against every four to five years in the wild. It is best to relocate captive elephants to their natural habitat with necessary precautions and have the least intervention from humans,” says Chowta.
In future, some of the 3,500 captive elephants in India may be released into the forests and monitored 24/7, thus offering them optimal living conditions comparable to those of wild elephants.
As many as 16,000 Asian elephants in the world — one third of the entire population — are captive.