Airdate: Apr 29, 2003
Scientist: William Karesh
Wildlife Veterinarian: Elephant Challenge
Locating an elephant in the rainforest and sedating it for a physical examination is no easy feat.
Wildlife Veterinarian - Elephant Challenge
Music; Ambience: Elephants, Congo forest
JM: Locating an elephant in a dense forest is challenging enough, but your problems really begin when you find one. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Scientists know very little about the elephants of central Africa, and there are good reasons why.
WK: "The central African rainforests are your typical thick jungle from the days of Tarzan movies. Huge trees, just massively tall, breaking through the canopy. If you fly over, it looks solid green. The animals in the forest have been very hard to find. They are thick forests, you don't see them, you could walk for a day and maybe see four animals because they are hiding in the forest."
JM: William Karesh is a field veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society. He tells us that elephants have keen senses of hearing and smell, and - after years of poaching - they tend to avoid humans. On a mission to put radio collars on elephants in order to monitor their migration patterns, Karesh and his team would spend days trying to get close enough to an elephant in order to shoot it with an anesthetic dart.
WK: "We use a very fast-acting drug so they'll go to sleep in just a few minutes. As soon as we dart them, if we are lucky enough for them to run away, instead of run at us, we just pick up our gear and run after them. And we can't lose them. So it takes a dedicated team that's not too scared of actually being killed. Because sometimes they will lay in wait for you, and try and ambush you if they have the sense they're being followed. And that has happened in the past, and it's quite an exciting experience when an elephant charges out next to the trail where you're walking and tries to smash everyone. Everybody runs off into the forest in all directions."
JM: William Karesh has written about his adventures in Appointment at the Ends of the World: Memoirs of a Wildlife Field Veterinarian. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.