Testing satellite collars for elephant orphans

Testing of elephant collars involves moving the collars around and seeing if the information we are sent in GPS signals are accurate.

To ensure the proper operation of the satellite collars that will be fitted on a couple of the rehabilitated elephants of the GRI-Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP), we have been running trials in advance of a planned collaring later this month.

These trials involve testing the collars in various locations, under varying conditions – especially different types of vegetation with different coverage (e.g. open grassland, shrubs, thick trees). Collars were placed least 200 metres apart from the previous location every time and at least a metre away from each other. The EOP team would record the exact GPS locations then move the collars every three hours to different locations to see how the collars perform in terms of the GPS signals we receive from them.

The tests have gone very well.

With these juvenile elephants sometimes wandering freely it is important that we monitor them to get an idea of their foraging habits, their socialisation with wild elephants and their independence from the Kafue Release Facility. We want to know how comfortable they feel to travel far and ensure they are not entering into human domains (which could lead to crop raiding and other human-elephant conflicts).

This information can be obtained by satellite collars, which relay GPS signals of movements over time via the internet and can be downloaded into maps. In October 2015, Chamilandu and Batoka were fitted with such satellite collars (with thanks to IFAW and ProWildlife). At the same time Tafika, who has always been more dependent on the herd and keepers, was fitted with a VHF collar (which utilises a handheld aerial to guide you closer to the location of the collar through clicks).

Dr Miguel de Gabriel, a researcher with IFAW who is overseeing the testing, is shown here fitting Chamilandu with her satellite collar.

Additional elephants are also starting to show signs of wanting independence, and with some new and upgraded satellite collars by Vectronics Aerospace, we plan to fit them as soon as possible.

The EOP Kafue Release Facility in Zambia’s Kafue National Park currently supports 12 elephant orphans.

--LO

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