Wildlife groups have created individual photo identification cards for wild elephants in southern India to help track the effects of poaching, conservationists said Thursday.
By being able to specifically identify animals, researchers get a better idea of elephant numbers and movements in an area. It can also help law enforcement in the event that an elephant carcass is discovered, said the New-York based Wildlife Conservation Society, which is working with several Indian groups on the effort.
The project focused on male elephants because "unlike African elephants, where both males and females have tusks, only male Asian elephants have valuable tusks, so they are specifically targeted by poachers," said WCS researcher Varun Goswami, the main author of the study.
Goswami said the researchers recently took more than 2,400 photographs of 134 elephants in reserves in the Indian state of Karnataka.
Using the pictures, scientists recorded data such as tusk length, thickness, angle, arrangement, as well as other characteristics like ear shape, shoulder height, tail length, and scars, the statement said.
Indian authorities estimate that there are more than 26,400 wild elephants in the country.
The study's findings were published in the August issue of Animal Conservation, a journal published in London.
While there was the possibility of elephants migrating in and out of areas "still, you can get a fairly good idea of the survival of these elephants if you are monitoring this over a period of time," said R. Sukumar, a wildlife expert at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, a city in southern India.
"The rigor of this technique can help us achieve real conservation success with the Asian elephants, which are threatened across their 13-country range," said Dr. Ullas Karanth, a co-author of the study.