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Translocation: Assessing the Effectiveness of Relocating Elephants

elephant feeding at a garbage siteTranslocation, the capture and moving of a wild animal, frequently is used as a last resort in people-elephant conflict. A crop-raiding elephant is captured using tranquilizers and transported via truck to a more remote, less populated region, where it is released. Although this practice is fairly common throughout Asia, very few studies have assessed its effectiveness.

Drs. Prithiviraj Fernando, Jenny Pastorini, and Eric Wirkramanayake of the Sri Lankan Centre for Conservation Research are working with the Sri Lankan Wildlife Department to investigate the effectiveness of translocations. Using three satellite collars provided by the National Zoo, they have started tracking the movements of translocated elephants.

The bull elephant was captured because he was frequenting a garbage dump in close proximity to a settlement. He not only posed a potential threat to local people, but eating garbage also presenetd a serious health risk to him. On May 19, the elephant was captured and moved about 40 km to Yala National Park in Southeastern Sri Lanka. He was released inside the fenced park.

The tracking data showed that the animal moved immediately to the fence, wandered along the fence until he found a weak spot, crossed the fence, and moved back to the garbage dump in less than ten days. Alhough expensive and potentially dangerous, the translocation was unsuccessful. Our Sri Lankan colleagues are hoping to track several other translocations to determine whether this outcome would be likely for other elephants.

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Read a related Voice of America article, "Sri Lanka Tsunami Survivors Learn to Live with Elephant Neighbors"