ELEPHANT MONITORING AND CONFLICT MITIGATION

To investigate the ecology of the local elephant population to inform decision making on human-elephant conflict issues, and to trial approaches to mitigate such conflict.


The Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (MoT NP), in Southern Zambia and the Zambezi National Park (ZNP), in western Zimbabwe, and their surrounding environs support a significant, largely seasonal, population of elephants.  Local communities suffer from crop-raiding, damage to property and the risk to human life, whilst the Parks are subject to intense utilisation by the elephants during peak months (May to October).  Of human-animal conflicts recorded around the MoT NP Park, 84% are attributed to elephants.  The human cost of this situation is that rural communities are suffering, both economically and emotionally.  In an area where families are reliant on growing food to survive, the destruction of an entire harvest can be devastating, as can the fear of being attacked.

Working in conjunction with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA), this project is seeking to gain a better understanding of elephant utilization of these areas by:

  • Understanding the spatial ecology of elephants, taking into account seasonal distribution and abundance;
  • Assessing the extent of cross-border migration in respect of meta-population management needs;
  • Providing a long-term overview of the population structure between gender and age groups;
  • Determining how elephants interact with their environment within and around the National Parks;
  • Identifying key local movement corridors;
  • Monitoring and document human-elephant conflicts;
  • Measuring the response to conflict  mitigation measures.

A lighting system that was originally developed to deter domestic livestock predation by lions after dark by discouraging animals from approaching kraals (fenced animal holding bomas) has also shown success in warding off elephants.  The system uses flashing lights to give the impression that someone is patrolling the area with a torch.  With a 100% success rate in keeping elephants away from farms in Kenya during a 10 month trial period, this system offers a potentially viable solution to the problems of crop damage and threat to human life caused by elephants.  The lights also temporarily disable the animal's visual system, which, when in a dark adapted state, is operating primarily on Rod photoreceptors which don't cope well in light.  The animals’ tapetum, which acts to amplify light in low-light conditions, makes this effect more dramatic.


Milestones:

2013:  Initial trials and experiments using the lighting systems in Livingstone, Zambia have proved encouraging. During a trial conducted in 2013 lighting units were set up in several high conflict areas and at known elephant movement corridors to those conflict areas.  Whilst local farms have been raided by elephants at least three or four times during the trial, elephants approached the test plots with the lights, but did not venture closer than 120 metres.  

Two satellite tracking collars were donated to the project by Terrestrial Ecosystem Services.

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