In Amboseli National Park, a successful elephant collaring does not happen by chance
From February 2013 to April 2014, 12 elephants within the Amboseli ecosystem have been fitted with collars. A collar deployed on an elephant for an average of two years transmits a satellite and GPS signal which tracks an elephant’s movements.
This tracking is essential in knowing the elephant migratory routes and dispersal areas in search of water and vegetation which is paramount to conservation management – and to IFAW’s ultimate goal of securing critical corridors for elephants in the Amboseli landscape. The tracking also ensures that human-elephant conflict is mitigated.
A successful elephant collaring exercise does not happen by chance. It requires meticulous planning which starts months in advance. Every minute detail is discussed and roles assigned. The roles range from who is responsible to carry water to pour on an immobilized elephant to ensure its temperature is stable, to who carries a stop-watch for timing how long it takes to carry out the exercise on one elephant, to who ensures that the large team of at least 40 participants are well fed and hydrated in the midst of the operation conducted in dense grassland and sometimes remote areas.
The exercise is a delicate one as it focuses on sedating and reviving an elephant which weighs on average six tonnes. It requires technical expertise, precision and skill from veterinarians, laboratory technicians, research scientists and logistics experts.
One element of the exercise that is rarely spoken of but plays a critical part is the involvement of community members. In the Amboseli ecosystem elephants and other wildlife share geographical space with members of the local Maasai community without whom the exercise would be futile.
During the planning process, the geographical area where the exercise will be conducted is identified – this is where the community comes in. Community game scouts with the help of the residents help in identifying areas where the elephants have been spotted recently. This makes it easier for the spotter plane on the actual day of the collaring to know where elephant herds can be located. The Community game scouts are also present at the exercise to offer support through security and logistics. The local area leaders and chiefs through community meetings and forums help in informing the residents of the impending exercise which is important for personal safety.
In the 14 months that the 12 elephants have been collared there have thankfully, been no incidences of injury or fatalities to the elephants or humans. The movements of the elephants are monitored daily and the information is shared amongst KWS, IFAW, and SFS and other stakeholders in conservation. The tracking is giving critical information in elephant movements along the Kenya and Tanzania border – it’s amazing how far some of these elephants trek!
As these organizations bask in the glory of success, they share the success and are grateful to the local Maasai community for the role played in this all-important exercise which plays a critical role in securing space for elephants.