Tracking Elephants with GPS Collars

To track elephants we now use collars which have a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit. GPS is based on a network of satellites using which the location of an object on the ground can be obtained to within a few meters accuracy. So these new collars obtain an extremely accurate location for the elephant every four hours, night and day. Then they transmit that information (6 locations for each day) once a day to another satellite that relays it back to the ground. In this way, we can get extremely precise data on elephant movements every 4 hours, and we can answer a great many questions that are relevant to management.

We have already used more then ten satellite-GPS collars on elephants. They are ranging in and around the Yala, Udawalawe and Lungumavehera National Parks in southern Sri Lanka. Three elephants have been collared in the northwest of Sri Lanka.

The first elephant to be collared was a young male and has been named "Kavantissa" or "Kavan" for short - after an illustrious king who ruled the Ruhunu kingdom in southern Sri Lanka over 2000 years ago. Our research camp is based in Tissamaharama which is a town named after a stupendous monument to the Lord Buddha built by the great king. During this period there was another kingdom - that of Kelaniya, on the western coast which was ruled by another king - Kelanitissa. The ancient chronicles record the inundation of the land by the sea during this time, causing great destruction in the Kelaniya kingdom. This is perhaps one of the earliest records of a tsunami in the world. The occurrence of the tsunami was attributed to the anger of the gods caused by a misdeed of the king. In order to appease the gods, the king's daughter, a princess named 'Devi' was set on a golden raft and set afloat on the high seas. The raft washed up on the southern shores and the news was brought to the notice of king Kavantissa. He saved the princess and ultimately married her. She came to be known as Vihara Maha Devi and a monument was built at the place of their betrothal. Called the 'Magulmaha Vihare', this monument is in the area frequented by our collared elephant Kavan and his herd.

Read the story about collaring Kavan, Sri Lanka's first elephant with a GPS collar.

Our second elephant, is named "Biso-Menike". She is a young female in a family group that we have known and been monitoring for many years. The matriarch of the group is Biso, hence the name Biso-Menike. Which sort of means, 'young lass of Biso's lineage'.

Homey was causing problems on a garbage dump. It was decided to catch him and bring him to a park. With the GPS collar we were able to follow his movements. Read more...

Sapumali, our elephant on "facebook"
For one of our collared elephants in the northwest of Sri Lanka we have created a group on "facebook". We regularly upload new maps for Sapumali so the members of the group can follow her movements easily. If you are interested, please join the group "Sapumali the Elephant" on facebook.

Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka

Smithsonian Institution, USA