Audrey is monitoring elephant behaviour and feeding habits in the park, but is also doing some dung analysis. She is collecting dung to look at the ratio of leaves (from trees and shrubs) to grasses in the dung, giving an idea of what the elephants have been eating. She is also collecting dung samples to be tested for stress hormones.
However, collecting elephant dung is not as simple as it sounds, as Audrey can only collect dung if she knows the age and sex of the elephant that produced it. Although she is allowed to get out of her vehicle to collect the dung, she may not do so in front of tourists, but just recently she says that the tourists have had perfect timing and keep appearing and catching her scratching around in the dung balls.
The elephant research is focussed in two areas - the Skukuza/Lower Sabie/Pretoriuskop area and the Satara region. A total of 12 elephants have been collared in the two areas, but Audrey is also observing the behaviour of any elephants that she sees.
Audrey started with her elephant monitoring and dung collecting in March. Every time she sees an elephant in her study area, she will have to record its exact location, the surrounding habitat and the age and sex of other elephants in the group. She will be compiling elephant photo identikits and each elephant monitored will have its identity checked and recorded along with the general behaviour of the group.
Some elephants in the group will be continuously observed. Audrey will have to record the distance the elephant moves, the reason for moving, feeding behaviour (tree species, type of browse (bark, leaf etc), bite size, interval between bites, proportion of tree taken per bite, proportion of tree eaten before moving on.
Observations will also be made for 15 minutes at a time, where feeding, moving, social, resting and other behaviours will be recorded every minute.By knowing individuals in a group and seeing how the animals relate to each other, Audrey will be able to see how many calves associate with a particular female elephant. By assessing the age of the calves, the time between their births can be estimated. This calving interval can be used to determine population growth rates.