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With increasing human activities in the Albertine Graben thanks to oil production, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Total Exploration and Production, and Wildlife Conservation Society are up and about, trying to address some of the wildlife conservation threats to make sure wild animals are still safe in their home.
The wild animals expected to be affected the most are elephants, which are around 5,000 in Uganda today.
Elephants move a lot in search for food and water. Each elephant eats up to 350 kilograms of vegetation and up to 90 liters of water daily hence playing a very important role in the modification of the ecosystem.
As a way of protecting them, UWA and its partners are implementing a satellite Collaring project to help with monitoring of the elephants.
Dr. Patrick Atimnedi, Senior Manager Veterinary Services at UWA says currently they are collaring herd leaders to monitor the movement of their group individuals.
“The collaring exercise was successful and right now it is helping us easily monitor elephant movements in the wake of going 3D Seismic Oil Survey,” Dr. Atimnedi said.
Dr. Atimnedi says collaring will aid UWA and other conservationists to monitor the impact of oil exploration activities on the wildlife using elephants as flagship species.
The joint initiative was initiated in 2013 to help minimize the impact of the oil and gas activities in the national parks.
He revealed that after the study they will develop appropriate mitigation measures through adaptive management.
“The information collected will inform the monitoring of the response of elephants to changing environment during the oil and gas development activities”.
Dr. Simon Takozekibi the Country Director – World Conservation Society, said that collaring of wild animals is a tried and tested measure that has been used on many wild animals for decades.
“We started collaring the elephants in 2005 at Queen Elizabeth National Park with only 8 individuals. In 2008, we went to Kidepo Valley National Park and in 2011, we collared 8 elephants in Murchison Falls National Park. We increased the number from 8 to 16 collared individuals in 2016”.
He added that the collars of the previous time had expired so it was the right time to introduce new ones.
Process of Satellite Collaring the elephants
First the elephant is spotted as the Veterinarian is preparing the anesthetic which is used to immobilize it
“We use a specialized gun to inject the animals and it takes effect within 15 minutesl,” says UWA’s Dr Robert Aruho
When the animal is down, the team quickly comes to put on the collar. One of the team members measures the elephant’s tusk, another measures its neck while the rest make sure the animal is okay.
The elephant collar is 30 kilograms in weight and inside it there is a satellite communication system that broadcasts information.
“We fit the collar around the neck of the elephant and bolt it securely into place leaving for it extra space for growth. The collar helps us track the animal’s movement points every after an hour. We can also tell if it’s in one place or it’s moving. If it stays in one place for a long time, the collar signals a risk then we risk respond. It’s also embedded with a very high frequency system we call the BHF that we use a radio to track it on the ground”.
He added that some of the satellite communications they use are cellphones and laptops which have an app that monitors where the elephants are.
The collars on elephants provide valuable information on areas in which they roam like prevent poaching by allowing park rangers locate animals from the ground and also anticipate any dangers they may encounter.