To date, six elephants (four males and two females) have been fitted with satellite collars that pinpoint all the elephants' locations three times a day, allowing us to develop an accurate and comprehensive understanding of their movements.
In November 2004, two males (nicknamed Benjamin and Alex) and a female elephant (Joan) were located from the air, darted and fitted with satellite collars. Joan proved to be rather feisty and initially resisted the intervention of the veterinary team, but once the anaesthetic drugs took effect was quickly collared in a riverbed.
The collaring of the two males was a simpler process, and all three elephants recovered well. When located the following day, Joan was reunited with her calf and appeared calm within her herd.
The research is one of six projects being conducted by Save the Elephants in four countries in Africa. Public donations have made it possible to collar the six elephants in South Africa.
Benjamin's collar was donated by Stefan Breuer, a landowner in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, who participated in the Collaring Safari conducted by the International Wildlife Health Institute. A number of smaller donations purchased one of the new collars, while Tony McClellan has donated all the other collars.
The researchers hope to collar a total of 30 elephants, 18 bulls and 12 cows, in order to monitor them for a ten-year period. When the elephants are collared the team measures their tusks, shoulder height, back length and feet circumference. Blood samples are also collected for DNA analysis.
Interestingly, two of the recently collared elephants, Joan and Benjamin, both have made extensive use of the Phalaborwa Mining Company (PMC) grounds north of the APNR. At one stage Benjamin paced the Kruger National Park boundary fence for a week before heading south to cross the Olifants River and enter the PMC property. Clearly there is substantial movement of elephant not only between the APNR and Kruger but also between the APNR and PMC.
With time the research will provide insights into what it is each area has to offer the elephants and how they fit together to meet the elephant requirements for a home range.
Mac, a large bull collared in May 2002, spends his musth period in the APNR and then moves north towards Shingwedzi in the Kruger National Park. In the first year of monitoring he had a home range of over 4500km2. This is comparable in size with that covered by the desert-living elephants of Namibia and Mali, and more than ten times larger than that of other male elephants studied in this area.
The research also involves ground based monitoring of the elephants. Elephants are identified by characteristics such as tusk shape and size, and nicks, holes, tears and veins in their ears. This produces an elephant identikit, which is backed up by photographs. Once individual animals are known, they can be monitored from vehicles. Over 600 elephants have been identified in this way, and their behaviour and social interaction can thus be monitored.
Anyone wishing to provide donations to the project can contact Michelle or Steve Henley on 015 793 0369.