What you need for Elephant Tracking

Field Report by Beehive Fence Research Assistant, Derick Wanjala 

Taking the waypoints using the GPS

Mwakoma, Mwambiti and Kajire villages in Sagalla ward, Taita Taveta county are hotspot areas for African elephants. Elephants come from Tsavo East national park via Ndara Ranch to the communities for crop raiding.  The Elephants and Bees Research center based in Mwakoma works with these villages to protect their farms from crop-raiding elephants by using beehive fences.

The projects work with both beehive and non-beehive fence farmers to monitor the movement of the elephants in the communities. For instance, from July 2019 to September 2019, we have been monitoring four bull elephants which are roaming in the villages.

During elephants tracking, we always equip ourselves with a Tape measure, GPS, Crop-raiding assessment forms, Dung Boli and footprint assessment forms.  In the cases of crop-raiding, we respond quickly for crop-raid assessment in both beehive and non-beehive fence farms. We start by identifying the crops grown by the farmer, crops damaged by elephants and those left untouched as this helps us to identify elephant’s preferences.

Depression of urine on the ground in front of the dung, indicating a male elephant

The GPS helps us to collect the waypoints and elephants tracks. We determine the elephant’s footprint direction then we follow the tracks as we take footprint and dung bolus measurements.

Dung bolus assessment helps us to determine the digestion status and the plants fed on by the elephants. This is identified by the seeds and plant remnants in the dung.  For example, July- September 2019 was a very dry period in Sagalla and the elephants were searching for watery plants instead. From the dung bolus assessment, we found sisal plants remain in most cases. The dung and urine also help us to identify an elephant’s sex. And in this case, the depression of the urine on the ground in front of the dung shows a male elephant.

Checking for the digestion status of the elephant with Nashon

The tape measure is used in taking footprint measurements for the hind and front footprints. To differentiate them, front footprints are round and hind footprints oval in shape. We usually take the length measurements of hind prints since they are clearer and this helps us to estimate age of elephants. For the last three months (July 2019 to September 2019), we have been tracking four elephants which are roaming between Mwakoma, Mwambiti and Kajire villages to monitor their behavior changes and movements in response to the beehive fences. We took several footprint measurements and their average helped us to come up with the exact footprint sizes of the elephants i.e 52×30, 50×30, 48×30 and 48×30 which helps us to capture age estimates of the elephants.

Measuring elephant footprints

Photo credits: Tatiana Chapman & Jocelyne Weyala

The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants

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