Cross Country Challenge
June 7 2016

We previously reported that an elephant sighted in Zambia was subsequently seen in Zimbabwe.  As ALERT Director, and Principal Researcher for our elephant monitoring programme, David Youldon, states: “This finding is potentially important for our understanding of how elephants seasonally utilise the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia.  From my conversations with local residents in Livingstone, most believe that as the water levels in the Zambezi River drop as the dry season progresses, some elephants cross over from Zimbabwe and remain in Zambia until October or November, when they return across the River again, before the rains start.” 

One elephant bull, however, was sighted in Livingstone on 7th May, but was then sighted again in Zimbabwe on 20th May, having crossed the River against the believed migratory flow.

7th May: Mosi-oa-Tunya NP, Livingstone                                      20th May: Zambezi NP, Victoria Falls

On the morning of the 6th of June, the research team was driving through the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and stumbled across a male elephant.  After a while it moved out of the dense thicket in which it was feeding and crossed a road, giving the research team a good view.  However, the elephant was not alone.  Close behind it a second elephant emerged; one with very recognizable tusks and ear notches.  

6th June: Mosi-oa-Tunya NP, Livingstone

Our research teams in Zambia and Zimbabwe have yet to compare their data collected in May to discover if other elephants are crossing back and forth between the two countries, however, this one easily identifiable example potentially indicates that movement from one park to the other may not be a single annual migratory event, but rather that the Zambian side is used as an extension of the Zambezi National Park, where elephants gather in large numbers each dry season to take advantage of the permanent waters of the Zambezi River.  If elephants are crossing back and forth throughout the dry season there are clear implications for the study of their abundance and behaviour in this programme going forward, as well as for the conservation management of the species in this area.

Over the past few days we have also welcomed Dr Bruce Schulte of Western Kentucky University to Livingstone to discuss early progress with the elephant programme.  ALERT and WKU have signed an MoU to cooperate on the programme.  Agreements are also in place with Copperbelt and Coventry Universities. 

About the Elephant Programme

In fragmented land-use mosaics the home ranges of African elephants feature a combination of protected and unprotected areas.  Ranging in human-dominated landscapes inevitably leads to interaction, and therefore conflict, with communities; most notably with farmers as a result of crop-raiding.  Understanding elephants’ use of land, both within and outside of protected areas, is seen as increasingly important to future conservation management of African elephant populations.

Increasing human populations and agricultural expansion within the Livingstone area of Zambia threaten to expand the human / elephant interface, likely leading to greater incidence of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC). The success of HEC mitigation strategies is dependent on the ecology and behaviour of elephants in an area, as well as the human socio-political and economic environment. Specific research on elephant populations in the region are sparse, and efforts to mitigate the conflict have largely been undertaken without rigorous planning or evaluation. This research aims to collect comprehensive data to assist in fully understanding the mechanisms behind HEC in this region.

This program, a partnership between the Zambia Wildlife Authority, ALERT, Copperbelt, Western Kentucky and Coventry Universities, the Zambia Forestry Department and local communities, focuses on the following:

• Assessing seasonal distribution and abundance of elephants in different habitat types to establish key resource areas and movement corridors.

• Determining elephant population structure within these areas including population trends, herd sizes and male/female ratios

• Determining behavioural ecology of elephants

• Documenting human-elephant conflict amongst local communities.

• Assessing efficacy of different conflict mitigation strategies.

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