VHF tracking to locate collared elephants at Lake Jipe
Blog by International Intern, Blaise Ebanietti
I had the amazing opportunity to join both Dr. Lydia Tiller and Naya Raja on my first expedition to Tsavo West National Park! Our mission was to locate and monitor Save the Elephants collared elephants in the Tsavo Conservation Area. Last February, Save the Elephants collared 20 at risk elephants throughout a five-day operation. This project was a collaboration between Save the Elephants, Kenyan Wildlife Service, Wildlife Works and Tsavo Trust and was funded by various donors, including Disney’s Reverse the Decline Fund. The overall aim of this project is to gain a deeper understanding of the movement and behavior of Tsavo’s elephant population via monitoring. Ultimately, this information can be used to help mitigate human-elephant conflict (HEC) and to protect the elephant population from poachers.
Our journey brought us to the shores of Lake Jipe, which is located in Tsavo West National Park. This lake also shares a border with Tanzania. We also had a clear view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which we took as a good omen for the day. Little did we know how accurate this prediction was!
Lydia taught me how to use the Save the Elephants app, which was developed by STE and has since been developed further by Vulcan in Seattle. We then drove to the most recently updated locations of the individuals we were searching for. The elephants are equipped with VHS tracking collars, which lets off a radio signal beep that allowed us to physically locate individuals using an antennae and receiver, which increases in frequency and amplitude as we get closer to the collared elephant. This was very useful when the visibility is low in the dense bush habitats within Tsavo West. Each individual collared elephant has their own tracking code, which allows us to home into their specific signal using a receiver and directional antenna. Once we successfully located a collared individual, we used a handheld GPS to mark waypoints and to record the latitude and longitude on the data sheet. We then proceeded to collect data on the demographics (i.e. size and type of group, sex, and age) of the elephants our focal individuals are found with.
Our plan was to locate three individuals that were within the Lake Jipe area of Tsavo West. These individuals were EQ, Jipe, and Monolo.
Jipe: This female is 20-30 years old, found with her family group. Our team located her first, right on the edge of the park boundary. We also suspect that she might be pregnant!
EQ: This special female was named after Elizabeth Quat, “who had fought tirelessly to bring about the ivory ban in Hong Kong.”
Monolo: This big bull is notorious for spending all day in the reeds of Lake Jipe safely away from the community until evening arrives. He was the third and final elephant that we spotted on our mission.