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The team sit quietly or doze in the shade on the edge of a bamboo forest. It’s 4pm on a hot April afternoon and the trackers have been out since dawn. Suddenly a walkie- talkie crackles and instantly everyone is up.

A large bull elephant has been darted 250 meters away.

"GO, GO, GO!"

The vet shouts leading the way into the thick bamboo forest. He is responsible for the elephant’s welfare and must get to him as quickly as possible. The pace is fast and we crash through thick bamboo until finally emerging into a clearing. There is a magnificent bull elephant, lying still, eyes open but sleepy, ears occasionally wafting back and forth. The vet checks its vitals and the team assess its height and approximate age. Then they work quickly to fit the collar. It is critical that the bull is back on his feet as fast as possible and the team aim for the whole process to take less than an hour.

 With a collar now fitted, the bull elephant heads back out into the forest.
© Julia Thiemann WWF-Germany
With the collar fitted, the vet administers an antidote to the sedative. The elephant wakes up and makes his way back into the forest.

The GPS collars will send hourly updates so we can track the elephants’ movements, essential as deforestation destroys their home and drives them closer to villages.

Most communities have constructed tree houses as a refuge when wild elephants pass through, but a tree house won’t their livelihoods. An Asian elephant can eat up to 300lbs of food in one day, so it takes no time for a herd to work its way through the crops of an entire village.

By charting the elephants’ movements, we can work to put in place safeguards that will help humans and elephants coexist. The GPS collar will also flag any sudden changes in movement patterns that might indicate the elephant is being tracked by poachers or has been darted. A ranger team can then be dispatched to the area. Soon the collar is attached and we leave as the vet administers an antidote. With an unprecedented number of elephants killed this year a solid and peaceful relationship between humans and elephants is more critical than ever if Myanmar is to keep these giant, noble, national treasures.

 The collaring team
© Samir Jung Thapa WWF-Myanmar