Category Archives: Blog

Ronny Makukule from Elephants Alive goes to Kenya to meet his heroes!

Ronny Makukule and Dr. Michelle Henley

When Michelle told me we were going to Kenya together I was so excited and proud – but also nervous at the same as this was my first ever international flight. But I couldn’t wait to see how it feels to fly above the clouds.

Ronny and Dr. Iain Douglas Hamilton

As the pilot announced we would be landing in Nairobi, I felt like crying because I was so happy to be in Kenya for the first time. We were driven to the Save The Elephants head office where we met with Founder Dr Iain Douglas Hamilton. It was seven years since we last met and I was thrilled to spend time with this great hero of mine – the Nelson Mandela of the conservation world.

Dr. Lucy King, Ronny & Dr. Michelle Henley

The next day we travelled to Voi, where the Save the Elephants Bee Project team are based. This was the first time for me to meet the ‘mother of bees’, Dr Lucy King. She is helping the communities protect their crops from elephants with bee hive fencing – she is also a real inspiration to me. Next morning the team took us to see the bee fences in the community at first hand. We were guided by Emmanuel Mwamba.  It was great working with them as they told a lot of stories about working with the bees and elephants during different seasons. We spent two nights here – sharing our experiences with bees.

Emmanuel Mwamba and the beehive fence

Next, we flew to Samburu National Park. I was nervous as it was a small plane – but I loved the views of Mount Kenya en route. On arrival in Samburu we met the rest of the Save The Elephants team, who took us on a short game drive. The first animal I saw was a Dik Dik and I couldn’t stop taking photos of this tiny antelope. The STE guys were intrigued why I was taking so many photos and I realised that I was like the tourists in South Africa seeing their first steenbok! Samburu is so different to the Greater Kruger reserves and I was thrilled to see some of the Kenyan wildlife specials such as Grant’s gazelle, Gerenuk, Rothschild’s giraffe and many new birds. What amazed me most about the elephants here is that they depend on the permanent flowing Ewaso Ng’iro River and could be found predictably moving either two or from the river in vegetation at elephant knee height. This meant that collecting ear patterns and identifying individuals is so much easier than in South Africa!

David Daballen, Dr. Iain Douglas Hamilton, Dr. Michelle Henley & Ronny at the Educational Centre

Next morning, I finally met another of my elephant heroes – David Daballen. He has inspired me in my work studying elephants. He shared with me his amazing tracking expertise. On our game drive together, we encountered a breeding herd of elephants that were not yet part of the Save the Elephants ID project. It was so wonderful to watch how he recorded the herd, and we spent almost two hours with them recording each individual. The next morning Iain joined us and took us on an aerial tracking survey in his small plane. We flew for almost 3 hours counting Samburu herds and it was amazing to see the elephants’ paths between the villages with no fences or boundaries.

Lunch with Iain, David and Oria in Naivasha

The next morning we had to say goodbye to the STE team, and Iain flew us from Samburu to Naivasha. Here we met his wife Oria at their beautiful home on the edge of the lake – and I saw my first ever black-and- white colobus monkeys. I got to thank and say goodbye to Frank Pope just before leaving on our final flight from Nairobi back to South Africa.

This was the trip of a lifetime for me – so many new experiences and best of all spending time with my elephant heroes – Dr Iain Douglas Hamilton, Dr Lucy King, Frank Pope and elephant ID expert, David Daballen.

Thank you

I am very grateful to Michelle and Harriet from Elephants Alive for working on my funding application to STE. On the STE side, I am blessed to have met Iain, Oria and Dudu Douglas-Hamilton. Thank you so much, Frank Pope for approving the application. Lesley Nalwa did a wonderful job planning all our train, taxi, flight and accommodation requirements ahead of time.

Elephant squatter evicted from Ingwelala Camp!

Draco inside camp. Credit: Chris Thorpe

By Harriet Nimmo

A bull elephant broke through the perimeter fence and moved into the Ingwelala Camp, where he has been for a number of weeks. 

He is known to Elephants Alive as Draco, with his distinctive tear on his right ear and elongated wart on his left temporal gland. 

Although peaceful and gentle, he was damaging a number of trees and water pipes in a confined space, and there was concern about his close proximity to households and families. 

A helicopter had been brought in – twice  - to try and shoo him out, but he refused to budge. 

So Elephants Alive and the WildlifeVet team were called in to relocate him. 

Draco being loaded onto truck. Credit: Harriet Nimmo

It was a swift, smooth and successful operation, with the full support and assistance of Chris Mayes, Ingwelala Conservation Manager and Bryan Haveman, Umbabat Warden. 

Being carefully wynched onto the truck. Credit: Harriet Nimmo

The elephant was darted close to a camp road, thanks to the skillful flying of helicopter pilot Jana Meyer from Wildlife Aviation.  The Elephants Alive team and Wildlife Vets quickly moved examined the the sleeping giant. He was gently and carefully hoisted onto a flatbed truck, as the Elephants Alive team took vital samples and measurements. 

Draco on flatbed truck – aerial shot by Jana Meyers, helicopter pilot. Credit: Harriet Nimmo

The truck then slowly drove the elephant out of Ingwelala Camp, and Draco was moved 40kms away.

The crane carefully lifted him off the flatbed truck and the vets brought him round with ease.  Draco stood up within a few minutes and with a shake of his head, moved off into the extended part of the Private Reserves.

Being driven away from Ingwelala on the Timbavati road. Credit: Harriet Nimmo

In the meantime, the fence surrounding Ingwelala Camp has been repaired so we all hope Draco will not return! 

Draco up and moving away after his relocation.Credit: Harriet Nimmo

A very big thank you to Ingwelala and Umbabat for their support, assistance and understanding, and thank you to the WildlifeVets team and WildSkies Aviation. 



Elephants Alive gets a 10 year research contract from the APNR

By Dr. Michelle Henley

I first started observing elephants in the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park in 1996. For fun, together with my artist Mother, I started to record the ear patterns of elephants in the area after reading the books of Iain Douglas-Hamilton and Cynthia Moss. Already set on becoming an ecologist I was completing my MSc at the time. Later, I finished my fieldwork for my PhD and had to leave the bush with a heavy heart for the write-up phase in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Marlene McCay whose father was instrumental in founding the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve together with Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton saw the drawings and kindly enticed me back to the area to manage an elephant project focussed on continuing the ID study and radio-tracking elephants. As time passed Marlene and I co-founded Elephants Alive (EA), officially registering the project with Kruger in 2003. Long-term research contracts are always hard to come by so EA had to earn its keep and prove our devotion and commitment. More than 20 years later, with tears of gratitude I signed the 10 year contract (specifically with the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, Balule Private Nature Reserve and Thornybush).

The humble roots of our work, although planted in the APNR, have spread like the movements of the collared elephants across the vast landscape of Great Limpopo National Park. Our ID study has grown to over 2000 individuals and from the first elephant collared in 1998, we have collared 79 since then. The common thread running through it all has always been the elephants and the APNR. They say (Nelson Henderson) that the true meaning to life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to continue our work and for providing new meaning to this wise saying. I hope that the shade of the EA tree will always cast a shadow over the APNR and that many an elephant will come to rest beneath the branching network of all who have offered us support over so many years.

Networking Across the Globe

From left to right: Robin Cook, Michelle Henley, Anka Bedetti-de Kock with Ella, Jessica Wilmot and Tammy Eggeling at the Savanna Science Network Meeting

In March, the Elephants Alive (EA) research team attended the 2018 Savanna Science Network Meeting at Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park. This academic conference brings together scientists conducting savanna-related research in Africa, South America and Australasia, and is hosted by the Scientific Services of South African National Parks. EA’s Anka Bedetti-de Kock presented a 15-minute platform presentation titled ‘Developing fear landscapes – how do elephants respond?’ and Jessica Wilmot presented a poster titled ‘Protocol development and its use to classify damage causing elephants and related mitigation strategies’. Michelle Henley has been attending and delivering presentations at the Savanna Science Network Meeting for over a decade, forming valuable scientific relations with researchers from a variety of institutions to keep our research on elephants current and applied.

From left to right: John Jackson, Caitlin O’Connell-Rowell, Hannah Mumby, Shermin de Silva, Kate Evans, Michelle Henley, Emily Neil, Liz Greengrass, Phyllis Lee, Lucy Bates and Joshua Plotnik.

Then in April Michelle was off to the Institute for Advanced Study at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin for a workshop entitled The Conservation Applications of Research on Elephant Behavior and Ecology. The workshop was kindly convened and financially supported by Dr. Hannah Mumby from the University of Cambridge. The cold was kept at bay by the energy and enthusiasm of the elephant specialists covering topics which varied from the importance of long-term studies to elephant cognition, male sociality, tree protection and human-elephant-coexistence for both African and Asian elephants. One outcome of the workshop will be a succinct summary of the burning conservation issues surrounding the protection of elephants. A call for the amalgamation of funding opportunities to make allowance for comparative studies across the globe was also considered important, thereby enabling new insights to be reached in a rapidly changing world for both elephants and people. Michelle departed inspired by the collective wisdom of more than a 100 years of fieldwork and insights gained from the studies currently still run under the guidance of the fieldwork ‘matriarchs’ coming from Asia, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia and South-Africa.