Collateral Damage Part 2 – Bycatch

By DJ & SdS

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In the fishing industry, the term “bycatch” refers to species that are entrapped in fishing nets that are not the intended target species.  Such victims, many of whom may die and simply be discarded overboard, represent a terrible waste of life.

Well, in Uda Walawe the bycatch this time was an elephant.

In a previous blog post, we examined how poaching devices like snares affect wildlife in Sri Lanka, especially young elephants. This example hints that even technically legal human activities inside protected areas can be detrimental to wildlife. Wildlife managers must be extra careful in monitoring such activities, and ordinary people must be made aware of the unintended consequences of their actions.

A team of park visitors of Uda Walawe informed the staff about an injured young elephant in early August, 2016. The information said the animal showed difficulty in walking on right hind leg and it was seen swollen. The juvenile was with a female group grazing around Ari Wala, a well-known water hole of the park. It was assumed that this was yet another snare victim, we had seen so many in recent weeks. The veterinary team at the Elephant Transit Home took actions to search for the animal later but with no success.

The vet team was spotted the animal again on the 29th August while they were monitoring the released rehabilitated juveniles around Kiral Ara area. But by the time the team got prepared for the veterinary intervention the animal went missing, again. This shows just how difficult it is to get the necessary help to an animal in trouble, even when its movements are restricted by what must be a very debilitating injury.

Another visitor group informed the park management about a young elephant with a leg injury the following day, this time it happened to be UWERP collaborator Dr. UK Padmalal. The observation was made in grasslands on the Gonawiddagala-Thimbiriyamankada road. Assuming it might be the same animal, the vet team sprang into action. This time both the elephant and the vet team got lucky! The UWERP team was called in to try and identify the calf.

The offending piece of fishing gear is removed, leaving a sizeable wound that has been drenched in antiseptic.

The offending piece of fishing gear is removed, leaving a sizeable wound that has been drenched in antiseptic.

 

 

Sameera & DWC officers try to see if the animals matches anyone in our digital catalog.

Sameera & DWC officers try to see if the animal matches anyone in our digital catalog.

It was a male about 7 years old, but unknown to the Uda Walawe research database. To our surprise, a snare wasn’t the source of the problem – it was a piece of nylon fishing net! It had cut deep into the flesh of the right ankle, the wound was estimated more than a month old with tissue starting to grow over it. No need to say it was infected and likely to be extremely painful to the animal. He was treated under sedation and long-term antibiotics were given following surgery. Though the case clearly needed post-treatment monitoring and follow-up antibiotic jabs, as might be expected, the team wasn’t able to locate the animal again so far.We hope the animal has recovered.

This case study illustrates why park management needs all the help they can get to strengthen their patrolling efforts to a) monitor careless human conduct in the park which could put wildlife in danger b) systematically follow injured and then treated animals till recovery. We appreciate that the staff have their limits even with routine management needs, that’s why we try our best to help whenever possible.

This cormorant in Minneriya National Park has a piece of fishing net tangled around its beak. Clearly a widespread problem.

This cormorant in Minneriya National Park has a piece of fishing net tangled around its beak. Clearly a widespread problem.

Want to help educated people about why they should be careful about waste and litter? Contact us if you would like to help distribute this poster:

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About asianelephant

Promoting understanding of Asian elephant behavior, evidence-based conservation, and the coexistence of people with wildlife and wilderness.
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