Elephant Monitoring Program in Ruaha National Park
The vast Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem (~50,000 km2) holds an estimated 15,000 elephants (2015 census), down from 35,000 in 2009, but still one of the largest remaining populations in East Africa. STEP’s monitoring of elephants in Ruaha National Park aims to assess trends in relative elephant density, to map elephant distribution, and evaluate the effects of poaching on elephant demography and behavior. This systematic, ongoing study of elephants is designed to inform management and policy decisions, and contribute to the basic understanding of elephants and conservation needs in Ruaha-Rungwa. This work also contributes to elephant protection through increased researcher and ranger presence, and we have designed our elephant monitoring program to cover some of Ruaha’s most remote regions. Our ongoing research activities include:
- Development and maintenance of the Ruaha elephant ID database (including >1700 individuals) and elephant sightings program for long term monitoring and research
- Regular vehicle and aerial transects to examine elephant distribution and movements by season and in relation to poaching events
- Citizen science: involving Ruaha tour guides in collection of elephant sightings data
- Camera trapping to investigate elephant activity patterns and use of water sources
Human-Elephant Interactions in Udzungwa-Selous and Ruaha-Rungwa
For people and elephants to thrive in the long-term, it is essential to find effective ways to mitigate the impacts of elephants on people’s lives and livelihoods, and vice versa. In order to devise practical and effective solutions to enhance human-elephant coexistence, our research focuses on the drivers and dynamics of elephant crop-use and the effectiveness of crop-loss mitigation methods. Our projects include:
- Studying demography and behaviour of crop-using elephants using camera-traps situated on elephant trails leading from the forest into the farms
- Monitoring crop losses to understand elephant feeding preferences and spatial dynamics of elephant crop-use in five villages
- Assessing the effectiveness of beehive fences in deterring elephants from farmland
- Trialing the use of Purdue Improved Crop Storage bags to reduce elephant break-ins to household food stores
- Two large-scale questionnaire surveys on human-elephant interactions in Ruaha and Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi
- Monitoring of elephant movements and corridors via dung transects and ground surveys
Effects of Poaching on Elephants in Selous Game Reserve
In the Selous Game Reserve, we partnered with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute in 2013-2015 to understand the effects of the recent catastrophic poaching on this critical elephant population. Methods included:
- Demographic survey conducted in 2015 to understand changes in the elephant population structure and assess potential long-term effects
- Examining “demography of the dead” through skull and tusk measurements of poached animals
- Piloting novel method of demographic assessment using elephant photos from aerial censuses
Support our research
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Research and training opportunities
From time to time we will advertize research opportunities for self-funded students. Applicants should send an introductory email, research proposal and CV to email@example.com.
STEP provides training in elephant monitoring and demographic assessment techniques. Please contact us for more information.