How do officials track stray elephants like Pandalur Makhna 2?

Bathery town
The Bathery town witnessed the elephant raid in the wee hours of Friday. The wild animal entered the town around 2.30am from outlying farms. Photo: Screengrab/MMTV

The Pandalur Makhna 2, or PM2, the tuskless male elephant that roamed through Bathery town in Wayanad, Kerala, triggering panic and causing an uproar in Kerala, was released into the jungle exactly a month back by Tamil Nadu Forest Department officials.

On Saturday, the Kerala Chief Wildlife Warden issued an order to tranquilise and capture it. PM2 is to be relocated to the elephant kraal at Bathery as per the order.

PM2 had killed a person and injured two when it raided a house in Tamil Nadu’s Gudalur in November last forcing the TN Chief Wildlife Warden to issue an order to tranquilise and relocate it. PM2 was released to Mudumalai Tiger Reserve on December 8.

Embedding tracker

Before releasing elephants to the forests, a tracking satellite caller is attached to its neck belt, wildlife conservation experts said.

Though it is programmed to collect data on the location of the elephant every 15 minutes, this device transmits information only once an hour, sources told Onmanorama.

Many areas in the forests of Wayanad do not fall under the coverage of the Iridium satellite and hence it is difficult to trace PM2.

Also, officials may not be tracking it if the elephant does not stray into human settlements.

The Global Positioning Systems (GPS)-enabled tracking device on PM2 is manufactured by Vectronic Aerospace, a Germany-based maker of wildlife monitoring products for small satellite applications, Tamil Nadu Forest Department sources said. There is a wireless beacon on the PM2, but tracking requires extreme skill and knowledge, a forest official said.

Moreover, within an hour, an elephant like PM2 could change course also, making it extremely difficult for officials to foresee the eventuality of it crossing over to human habitations.

So if that happens, without the order of the Chief Wildlife Warden, it cannot be immobilised chemically with darting equipment.

But the Kerala Forest officials were keenly tracking the elephant's path as soon as it emerged that PM2 had strayed into human inhabitations.

This was possible only because the TN Wildlife Officials shared the tracking data with their Kerala counterparts.

The hunt is on for PM2, which is somewhere near the Pazhupathur forest area. 

According to sources, though elephants exhibit strong homing instincts, which prompt them to go back to where they came from, it is highly unlikely the PM2 can make its way back to its Tamil Nadu abode.

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