Elephant impact & Monitoring – Read more here

Elephants are highly social animals which associate either in breeding herds, bull herds or exist as individual territorial bulls. A breeding herd is led by a dominant female also known as the matriarch. Female elephants generally stay within their natal herd so all females will be closely related. Bulls however will leave the breeding herd around the age of 12 and join mature bulls in bachelor herds. Older males then only associate with the herd when a female is in oestrous.

Elephants are predominantly grazers but also make use of trees to obtain bark, fruit, leaves and branches for their diet. They are wasteful feeders and often rip off whole branches or push down entire trees only to utilise a few leaves.

There are 2 important factors which determine the ecological carrying capacity an area has for elephants. These are firstly the size of the area and secondly the average annual rainfall. Based on these factors Pidwa (an area of 25 000 hectares joint with Makalali) can support between 50 and 62 elephants. Currently however the reserve supports 74.

Since 2000, the elephant population has been managed entirely through contraception of the female elephants. This programme (headed up by Audrey Kettles on Makalali) is ground breaking and an important pilot study for the effective management of elephant populations on smaller and fenced reserves. Female elephants receive 3 contraception treatments in their 1st year which then only needs topping up once a year after this. Benefits of the drug include no effect on females which may already be pregnant. Irrespective of the gestational stage, a pregnant female will carry to full term and have a healthy baby. The contraception is also reversible and all females in the programme are allowed to have 1 calf before being contracepted as an important learning process for them. Whilst work continues to reduce and stabilise elephant numbers on the reserve, monitoring and impact of the population is essential.

Project aims:

To monitor and assess the impact that the elephant population has on the vegetation and other game species on Pidwa.

What’s being done?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

All elephant sightings are recorded and the necessary action taken to protect certain vegetation. Data is collated in conjunction with Audrey Kettles to assist with monitoring relating to the contraception programme.

The role of volunteers:

  • Elephant monitoring – Volunteers record data relating to elephant sightings and identify individuals where necessary to assist with the contraception programme. Part of the programme selects certain individuals to have their contraception reversed. It is important to record how long after reversal these females fall pregnant and give birth again. New births must therefore be recorded and the mother identified accurately.
  • Vegetation protection – Rocks are collected by volunteers to be packed around the trunk of vulnerable tree species. More information can be seen in the tree protection section of this booklet.
  • Darting operations – The matriarch leading each of the 4 main breeding herds wears a GPS tracking collar which allows monitoring of the herds movements. This data is collated by Audrey Kettles but when needed, Askari assist with darting operations relating to the collars. During a recent collar replacement operation, volunteers were needed to act as ground crew for the procedure, on hand to assist with anything required. As the elephant is under anaesthetic, all work must be carried out quickly and efficiently. The animal must be kept cool throughout the procedure (using water) and the vet assisted with whatever needs doing including monitoring of the elephants breathing and vital signs.


© Askari Wilderness Conservation Programme

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