The Elephant Project

 

Our research commenced in 2003 as Save the Elephants – South Africa, and draws on data collected over almost two decades. The research contributes towards the long-term survival of the African elephant, thereby maintaining the vital diversity of our world. If elephants are to survive, we need scientific knowledge and an intimate understanding of their movements and needs.

Our quest involves delivering research solutions which acknowledge elephants as an integral part of the ecosystem they occupy. We work towards achieving a greater understanding of the complex relationships that elephants have with each other and their surroundings, including the people with whom they share their world.

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Scientific Objectives

  1. To conduct research into how habitat resources, the need for safety and the social presence of other elephants influence observed patterns in elephant movements.

  2. To understand the abundance, movements and conservation importance of the remaining large tusked bulls within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) and to use these flagship individuals as educational tools to address broader conservation concerns.

  3. Relate elephant occurrence to their effects on the vegetation and infrastructure where elephants and man co-exist.

  4. To determine the level of sensitivity between selected tree-nesting birds and the impact of elephant on trees used as nesting sites.

  5. To assess the efficacy of experimental mitigation methods aimed at reducing the effects of elephants in localised areas.

  6. To further our understanding of how elephant mortality rates differ between South Africa and other African range-use states in view of the escalating illegal trade in ivory.

Methods

Our overall research programme within GLTP represents a long-term study focused on understanding what motivates elephant movements from core conservation areas such as the Kruger National Park (KNP) into peripheral Protected Areas along its western, eastern and northern borders.

Objective 1

We track elephant movements using advanced GPS and GMS technology in order to understand their habitat use. By identifying specific elephants, we study population dynamics and objectives relating to the drivers of elephant movements.

Objective 1&2

We identify, track and monitor large-tusked and potentially large-tusked individuals to record their movements and fitness, in terms of annual musth cycles. In doing so, we are offering them a measure of protection. We have deployed a number of collars on large-tusked bulls, some of which have gained public support and recognition.

Objective 3&4

We provide information on the effects of elephants as drivers of ecosystem change in relation to indicator species such as large trees (primary) and selected tree nesting birds (secondary). Individual trees are monitored over time to establish rates of change in important landscape features.

Objective Five

We experiment with methods of alleviating the impact that elephants have on trees by wire-netting large trees or using beehives as natural deterrents, thus increasing food security for other species including humans. This information contributes towards improving our knowledge of the ecological processes that promote the sustainable coexistence of elephants, their habitats and people.

Objective Six

We monitor and compare elephant mortality rates and causes thereof within the continental context. The southern states (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) have become the last stronghold for the African elephant due to uncontrolled poaching to the north of these borders.

We initiate research projects as well as collaborate with established research sites across the southern states to deepen our understanding on how different land-use practises influence the movements, survival and the conservation significance of elephants.

Research Activities

Identifying individual elephants in order to study population dynamics

 

Western Kruger National Park (APNR)

Since 1996: An extensive individual elephant ID database of 1500+ elephants.

 

Northern Kruger NP (Makuleke Concession)

Since 2008: An ID database of 100+ bulls and the identikits of 11 independent breeding herds

Tracking elephants using advanced technology (GPS-satellite and GPS/GMS collars) to understand habitat use

 

Western Kruger National Park

Since 1998: 62 collaring operations including 17 re-collaring’s.

We currently have distribution data spanning 10 years from 8 herds and 29 bulls (ranging in age from 12 to 50 years).

 

Eastern Kruger National Park

December 2006: 7 GPS-satellite collars fitted on elephant bulls.

The focus is to gain a better understanding of elephant movements, their routes and under what environmental conditions they move into the new Limpopo NP in Mozambique. A secondary aim is corroborate or refute the results of our research efforts to the west of KNP.

 

Northern Kruger National Park (Makuleke Concession)

October 2008: 12 GPS-satellite collars fitted on elephants (6 bulls, 6 cows).

2012: 9 of these elephants were re-collared

This project is in collaboration with the Kruger National Park, the MakulekeCommunity and The Wilderness Safari Trust.

Monitoring individual trees over time to establish rates of change in important landscape features

In 2004 we initiated an individual tree monitoring programme. We are currently surveying 2971 individually labelled trees to determine their survival rate and the influences of accumulative elephant impact, wind toppling, insect attack or the effects of fire.

On an annual basis, we monitor 62 large trees used by southern ground hornbills as nesting sites to understand the influence of elephant impact on these sites.

We monitor 226 trees used by raptors and white back vultures as nesting sites to understand the influence of elephant impact on these sites.

Experiment with various methods of alleviating elephant tree impact and provide scientific knowledge to all stakeholders.

Testing the efficacy of wire netting large trees in order to protect them and to foster positive human-elephant interactions, as large trees are considered to be of ecological and aesthetic importance to landowners.

Establishing an experimental site where bees will be used as a deterrent for elephant impact, thereby providing food security for other species, including humans.