The team involved in the elephant darting operations has declared that the male elephant died due to respiratory arrest (hypoxia due to suffocation).
Ajay A. Desai of the WWF, in his report, observed that the sedative used was only 5 ml (500 mg) of xylazine, a mild drug as per the standard operating procedures in tranquillising. The normally strong immobilon sedative was not used here as a matter of precaution. The elephant on darting should normally stand and get into a sleeping mode. The animal was however, disturbed by a drunk in the brick kiln who started hooting at it.
“The animal unfortunately ran along a less used path and sank into a right lateral position on a sloping area but with hip on the upper side of the slope and its head pointing down. It was not clear if it had lost balance due to the slope and fallen suddenly or it had intentionally gone down in the sleeping position. The grass did not show signs of a fall or a sliding motion. The position put pressure on its lungs severely restricting its respiration. The animal was detected at approximately 1:15 a.m. (55 minutes after darting) less than 350 to 400 metres from the kiln.
“Given its poor body position [pressure on the respiratory tract] and the fact that it was showing signs of collapse, 10 ml of yohimbine hydrochloride was given immediately. However the slow action of the reversal drug was not sufficient to revive the animal [which was possibly already brain dead] and it was declared dead by the veterinary doctor shortly.”
The experts noticed the following symptoms in the dead animal: peripheral vasodilatation, extra vacation of blood from the capillaries, congestion of lung and lung emphysematous; frothy discharge in the trachea, bronchi and bronchioles; stagnation of blood found in both auricle and right ventricle.
Mr. Ajay Desai added: “Unfortunately while many factors can be controlled it is difficult to predict or totally control all situations during immobilisation operations. As such there is always a certain percentage of mortality when immobilisations are done on free ranging animals even when the best efforts are made to control the situation.”
On the justification for such collaring, the fact is that in India and many other Asian countries elephant deaths due to human-elephant conflict far exceed those due to poaching.
To stop this and the large number of human deaths due to elephants (over 400 people are killed by elephants) and also the nearly million families affected by crop depredations, there is a need to start understanding the interactions between human use areas and elephants and their habitats. For this, there is a need to identify reasons or causes for the conflict and also test new methods to mitigate the causative factors and also the conflict, hence the radio collaring initiative, he said.