The image of elephants gracefully feeding. breaking branches and effortlessly toppling trees is a familiar one. But, with poaching on the African continent extending far beyond rhinos, the spotlight is on safeguarding these gentle giants.
The team at Elephants Alive has studied these mammals for the last 20 years. and gained valuable insight into their lives. With an identification database of nearly 2 000 elephants, 80 of them collared, the team is able to understand social bonds, breeding behaviour and long-term movements of elephants in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
The Transfrontier Park includes Kruger National Park as well as the Association of Private Nature Reserves bordering the park (Timbavati. Klaserie. Umbabat. Balule and Thornybush) in South Africa. Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and Parque Nacional de Limpopo in Mozambique.
“Our elephant ID studies are the longest and most consistent for all of Southern Africa.” says Dr Michelle Henley, Elephants Alive CEO. She says their research provides valuable information to South African National Parks and private landowners on seasonal movements. impact on vegetation and sustainable trophy hunting in some private reserves where hunting takes place. In a more recent development. the data is also identifying poaching hotspots.
Elephants move through dangerous areas under the cover of darkness
Elephants are clever and avoid dangerous areas. Henley says their data supports the notion that elephants move through dangerous areas under the cover of darkness to increase their chances of survival. “Where poaching is prevalent. elephants travel fast and mainly at night.” explains Henley. In just one night. two collared elephants ran the gauntlet from the safety of Gonarezhou National Park in neighbouring Zimbabwe back to their home in Pafuri in northern Kruger. But apart from picking up on poaching hotspots. Elephants Alive has also been able to learn more about other behavioural aspects of elephant bulls. Not only do elephants travel long distances to find suitable mates during musth. older males teach. lead and discipline the younger bulls. “The more we observe these males in the field. the more they amaze us with their intelligence. sentience and social interactions.” explains Henley.
A great deal of work goes into minimising human-wildlife conflict. This not only includes situations where elephants raid crops. but also where they damage large trees during times of drought.
Visit www.elephantsalive.org to find out more about their work.
Written by René de Klerk
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