Jumbo radio collars lie idle with Bengal forest department
Debraj Mitra, Telegraph India
November 23, 2021
A project to tag elephants in south Bengal with radio collars to track
their real-time movements ‘launched’ a couple of years ago is yet to take
Three radio collars, provided by a German institute called GIZ, have been
lying idle with the forest department since January this year, said
The GPS-enabled collars were supposed to track real-time location and
movement of elephant herds in south Bengal, which could have reduced
human-animal conflict, said a researcher associated with the project.
Herds from Jharkhand’s Dalma range stray into villages in the south Bengal
districts of Bankura, Paschim Medinipur and Jhargram every year, destroying
crop and occasionally killing humans.
Barely a week ago, a herd of 49 elephants ravaged paddy farms in parts of
East Burdwan after entering the district through an unorthodox route,
making it difficult for foresters to restrain them. The herd is said to
have damaged at least 1,000 acres of paddy fields on their way.
According to sources in the forest department, several factors stalled the
project in south Bengal. “The project was supposed to have been implemented
first in 2018. But the herds moved away to Dalma. The intense heat in
summer in the western districts of Bengal was also a stumbling block,” said
one of them.
In 2019, the project was stalled by a tiger that had entered the Lalgarh
forests. The big cat was eventually beaten to death.
A retired forest official who was involved in the project also attributed
the delay to “bureaucratic inefficiency”.
“Officers come and go. Their priorities keep changing,” he said.
Multiple elephants in north Bengal have been radio-collared over the past
few years. Tracking the elephants and their herds has helped the forest
department in mitigating human-wildlife conflict.
Tagged on matriarchs, the GPS-enabled radio collars provide real-time
updates about the location of a herd. A tool embedded in the collar sends
The Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, which functions out of the campus
of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, had partnered the Bengal
forest department in the collaring project in north Bengal.
“Elephant movement in south Bengal has never been tracked in an organised
and scientific manner. It is largely dependent on hearsay and expert
opinion. The radio collars would provide the first empirical evidence on
elephant movement in south Bengal,” said Aritra Kshettry, an elephant
ecologist who has been part of previous collaring exercise in north Bengal
and is a consultant with GIZ.
“The other advantage would be the possibility of early warning systems.
Tagging one elephant helps in tracking a herd of 20.
Tagging two elephants would mean tracking two herds or 50-60 elephants.
Early warnings can help the forest department and local residents be better
prepared,” said Khsettry.
Debal Ray, the third chief wildlife warden of Bengal in the tenure of the
project, said he was aware of the unused collars in south Bengal.
“Elephants in north Bengal have already been tagged. But in south Bengal,
the job has to be done. I will have to check and find out the reason for
the delay,” he said.