By Risidra Mendis
The entire herd of elephants at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage are to be fitted with microchips as part of a joint programme between the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) Dehiwela and the Vienna Zoo.
Environmentalists have also welcomed this laudable move initiated by the NZG Director, Anura de Silva, in conjunction with the Deputy Director of the Vienna Zoo, Harald Schwammer, as this would essentially prevent elephants being allegedly stolen by persons connected to powerful politicians, and in addition, prevent the theft of pachyderms off wildlife enthusiasts owning tamed elephants. For the first time in the history of the orphanage, the herd will be fitted with microchips. The which once inserted will serve as a preventive measure to protect the elephants from being stolen. The idea of inserting the elephants at Pinnawela with microchips emerged when environmentalists urged the former Director of the Zoo, Bashwara Gunaratne, to expeditiously execute the proposal, in order, to protect the animals. However, that particular introductory proposal never materialized. Incumbent Director, De Silva however, is the first to initiate such a programme for elephants at the Orphanage. Speaking to Ceylon Today, de Silva said, initially two male baby elephants Nilgala and Waruna aged nine and thirteen months, were fitted with the microchips on 10 April 2013 by veterinary surgeon Dr. Chandana Rajapakse and will be monitored for a period of time before the rest of the animals at the Elephant Orphanage is inserted with microchips.
Vienna Zoo intensely involved
"Within a month the entire herd at the Elephant Orphanage will be fitted with microchips. At present we have in stock 150 microchips that were donated by Schwammer," de Silva said. He further revealed that the fitting of microchips on the animals will help in monitoring the breeding process, and enhance the animal exchange programme. He further added that Schwammer's wife Gaby, who is the Head of the Educational Division at the Vienna Zoo was intensely involved in the programme. Meanwhile, Department of Wildlife and Conservation and Veterinary Surgeon,
Dr. Nandana Atapattu told Ceylon Today he both welcomed and commended the decision taken by the NZG Director to install microchips in elephants domesticated at the Orphanage. "A microchip is inserted to identify, relocate and monitor the movement patterns of the elephant. In the past, as microchips were not in vogue, marker guns were somewhat cruelly used on elephants. A bullet was fired from the marker gun to penetrate the rear portion of the elephant. This bullet remained in the body of the animal for one year and the elephant was in effect identified by the bullet mark," Dr Atapattu said. He went on to say that around 20 years back the radio collar was introduced on elephants in Sri Lanka. "Radio collars were installed on baby elephants from the Ath Athu Sevana Elephant Transit Home in Uda Walawe, prior to being released to the wild.
"The radio collars helped to monitor the animals' movements in the wild," Dr Atapattu said. According to the DWLC Deputy Director microchips were introduced to Sri Lanka around six years back. "These microchips were used on dogs for identification purposes. Now the microchips are being used on elephants," he said He further revealed that the microchip is inserted into the shoulder of the elephant and the device is hidden from view once it is inserted into the animal.
Arresting elephant thefts
"When microchips were first introduced a cut had to be made on the animal where the microchip was to be inserted. The gash then had to be sutured. But now the microchip can be inserted in the manner of administering an injection," Dr. Atapattu said. "Microchips should be inserted on elephants at the Elephant Transit home as well.
"Since there are rumours that elephants are being stolen from the wild, inserting of microchips on elephants will help in protecting them," Dr. Atapattu explained. President of the Organization for Aquatic Resources Management (OARM), Shantha Jayaweera, said elephants with microchips can be identified as all the relevant details regarding the animal such as its age is recorded on this device.
"When elephants are captured from the wild, elephant owners claim that the animals were removed from the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. If a microchip is installed the animal can be identified and false ownership of these animals can be largely prevented. In certain cases lost elephants can be traced depending on the type of microchip that has been inserted,' Jayaweera explained.