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Why do we collar elephants?

Through the use of collars, researchers can delve into the intricate details of elephant behaviour, from deciphering their expansive home ranges to unravelling migratory routes that span vast landscapes. This isn’t merely an exercise in curiosity; it’s a crucial tool in understanding the impact of changing land use patterns on these endangered species.

For example, by studying how elephants interact in community areas, we gain a deeper comprehension of their dynamics in the face of human development and a changing environment.

The information gleaned from collared elephants goes beyond academic interest, it holds the key to predicting potential conflicts between elephants and human populations.

As the world grapples with conservation challenges, this tracking technology emerges as a vital component in the arsenal for both management and security. It allows conservation partners to swiftly respond to suspected poaching incidents and, perhaps even more crucially, to mitigate human-elephant conflicts.

Tsavo’s collared elephants

In Tsavo Conservation Area, we currently have 16 elephants fitted with collars, comprised of influential matriarchs, big tuskers, and notorious crop raiders that need vigilant monitoring.

The information from gleamed from these collared elephants can be extremely useful to gain important information about ranging patterns, habitat connectivity, and how elephants adapt to the encroachment of infrastructure development.

The recent discovery of a collared elephant crossing the SGR (Standard Gauge Railway) twice within two days after being collared underscores the real-world impact of this technology, informing land use planning and infrastructural development.

Moreover, these collared elephants can exhibit some curious behaviour, such as an elephant translocated from Meru to Tsavo National Park. The collar’s data revealed that the elephant had begun a homeward trek, almost retracing its steps all the way back to Meru before ultimately settling along the Tiva River.

Tracked troublemakers

Additionally, a troublesome crop raider from northern Kenya, relocated and collared in Tsavo National Park, swiftly discovered the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. This fenced sanctuary, designed to protect rhinos, became a target due to the raider’s learned association between fences and the tasty crops usually found behind them. Despite multiple break ins, the raider found none of the crops he was looking for.

The strategic collaring of such notorious crop raiders equips rangers with vital tools to closely monitor these mischievous elephants, enabling swift intervention to mitigate the damage they may cause. This proactive approach underscores the importance of technology in conservation, not only in understanding elephant behaviour but also in safeguarding communities and preserving delicate ecosystems.

Technological innovations for the future

New innovations in collaring technology may yield significant benefits for conservation efforts, particularly in the ongoing battle against poaching, a persistent challenge for conservationists across Africa.

A groundbreaking technological marvel known as WIPER (Wireless Internet Pachyderm Emergency Response) is emerging as a potentially impactful solution in regions still grappling with heavy poaching.

Operating by detecting the shockwave of a bullet, WIPER provides an approximate location of the shot, with the ability to sense gunfire up to 50 meters away. Conceived by Akos Lédeczi, WIPER draws inspiration from urban law enforcement gunshot detection systems. This innovation deploys acoustic sensors directly on the collars of elephants, ensuring that the crucial sensor is always in close proximity to the animal.

This technology could prove especially invaluable for the African forest elephant, which resides in dense forests in central Africa, making aerial surveys challenging for managing and protecting the elephants. With WIPER, once a gunshot is detected, a rapid response team of rangers can be swiftly deployed to the incident site, apprehending poachers and preventing further illegal activities. WIPER thus stands as a beacon of hope, bridging technology and conservation to safeguard these magnificent creatures from the scourge of poaching.

In summary, collaring elephants is a vital tool for understanding their behaviour and addressing conservation challenges. Real-world impacts, like an elephant crossing the Standard Gauge Railway, inform land planning for infrastructure developments. New innovative technologies, such as WIPER, offers hope against stopping poaching for particularly vulnerable elephants. These innovations showcase technology’s pivotal role in safeguarding wildlife and ecosystems, pointing to a promising future for conservation efforts.

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