ambience: elephants, Congo forest
We’ve all heard the saying “let sleeping dogs lie,” but when it comes to elephants, that’s not necessarily good advice. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Scientists who wanted to study the migration habits of central African elephants decided put radio tags on some of them to monitor their movements. But to radio tag such a large animal, you have to first anesthetize it with a help of a dart gun. And according to William Karesh, a field veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the anatomy of an elephant presents a special challenge to anyone who wants to put it to sleep.
“One thing is they donâ€™t have a diaphragm like you and I have – so they cannot breath with their abdomen – so they have to expand their chest with every movement. And their lungs are attached to their chest wall. So when theyâ€™re sleeping, letâ€™s say, they lie down on their chest, they weigh so much that they canâ€™t breath. It is a natural tendency when they go to lay down, to first go onto their chest. And if the drug works too fast they might stay that way. So, the first order of business is to push them over on their side, and this is a six or eight thousand pound animal, and it takes six people or so.”
At that point, William Karesh would give the elephant an overall physical exam and then a kind of rubber necklace was secured around the animal’s neck to hold a high tech, global positioning system transmitter in place.
“We can have the data sent by satellite to download. I can get an email everyday if I want, of the longitude and latitude of that elephant. And that information gives us something very basic, which is, how much land does an elephant need? What do we need to do to protect these animals?”
It turns out that the elephants range as far as a hundred miles in their seasonal migrations – a finding which may lead to the expansion of their protected preserve.
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.