Elephants in Deep Water
July 24 2016

The Zambezi River is a formidable barrier for most animals, but a short swim for an elephant.  Over the past few weeks we have been fortunate to witness several groups of elephants make the crossing to and fro between the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and the many islands dotted up-stream from the Victoria Falls.

There appear to be a few favoured crossing points, where the high river bank slopes down to the waters.

After a drink, the elephants, even the big males, often enjoy a little play-time in the cooling shallow waters at the River’s edge.  Thrashing around and jostling each other, the scene created is a favourite of the research team.   Eventually, they set off into deeper waters, using their trunks as a snorkel.  

However, the elephants do not get the River all to themselves.  The Zambezi is busy with pleasure boats giving local tourists a chance to fish, view the pods of hippos basking on the banks, or to view the spectacular African sunset.    

Also, not every elephants seems as comfortable with the water as others.  This male approached the water several times, showing considerable distress each time.  He eventually backed away, and with a mouthful of grass, settled with watching his two companions swim the mighty Zambezi, and disappear into the thickets on the other side.

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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 Department of National Parks and Wildlife, 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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