Research and monitoring of elephants is an essential part of elephant conservation, helping to inform management and policy decisions, and contributing to the basic understanding of elephants and their ecosystems. Following research priorities outlined in the 2010-2015 Tanzania Elephant Management Plan, we have established an elephant monitoring program in Ruaha-Rungwa to provide information for adaptive management and protection of this key elephant population.
Specifically, our monthly ground-based monitoring of elephants in Ruaha National Park serves to:
- assess trends in elephant density and demography
- map elephant distribution, habitat use, and seasonal movements
- evaluate the effects of poaching on elephant distribution, demography, and behaviour
To address the above aims, we are developing an Elephant ID Database of individually identified elephants and carry out monthly vehicle transects in Ruaha National Park.
Elephant ID Database
Our Elephant ID Database of known individuals is an essential tool in our elephant monitoring program. The database includes data from dry season 2013 onward, and continues to grow through our monthly transects and opportunistic sampling. The ID database includes over 190 cow-calf groups and more than 350 bulls, and totals over 1700 individuals.
With the help of this ID database, we are documenting more regular sightings of known families and bulls. As our re-sightings of known individuals grows, we build our understanding of home ranges, seasonal movements, and social interactions between cow-calf groups and bulls. This ID database also lays the crucial groundwork for our ongoing research into the behavioural and ecological implications of tusklessness, and the consequences of poaching on elephant demography and behaviour.
Monthly Transects to Assess Elephant Density and Distribution
In 2015 we began systematic data collection on elephant density and distribution in Ruaha using a monthly network of road transects. Our system of transects is over 400 km in length and covers the Park’s major habitat types, known important elephant areas, and areas less-well understood in terms of their importance for elephants. On these transects we document all sightings of elephants, assess demography, make individual identifications and record behaviour. We also record and mark the presence of elephant dung at regular intervals as an indicator of elephant distribution in different parts of the Park over time.
A complementary goal of our transects is to boost protection of elephants by increased researcher presence in remote parts of the Park, where we are acting as additional eyes and ears on the ground.