Our Landscape’s Great Explorers

By Anka Bedetti (Elephants Alive Tracking Projects Manager)

Study Elephant Cow, Summer.

Elephants in the Greater Kruger area are part of an open population roaming freely in the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTCA) and teach us that we still have a lot to learn when it comes to fully understanding their movements. Elephants Alive has collared many elephants over the past 20 years, allowing us to peek into their world. They have proven to be amazing survivors, adapting to the ever changing seasons and a global growing human presence. The following few examples show the magnitude of their travels throughout our landscape of 35,000 km2 of protected land and beyond.

Example of elephant movement across the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTCA) during the wet summer months (October to March)

The wet summer months (October to March) is “elephant exploration time” as they are no longer restricted by low quality/quantity vegetation and water availability. This is well illustrated by the maps.

Example of elephant movement across the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTCA) during the dry winter months (April to September)

An elephant cow called Summer and her family have been followed by the Elephants Alive team since 2006. They are by far our greatest travelling family unit, enjoying their annual trips to the southern part of Kruger mostly in the Skukuza area but also going all the way down to Berg-en-Dal.

Summer and her family

Young bulls are known to be the greatest explorers, and nothing is more far from the truth than the two bulls we collared in 2016, Elon and Induna, traveling great distances, back and forth, between the Associated Private Nature Reserves and the northern part of Kruger during the wet months. Interestingly, it seems that Elon calls the Associated Private Nature Reserve (APNR) home, whereas Induna prefers spending time up in the northern Kruger during the dryer months (April to September) which could indicate that he is originally from there.

Merlin’s trajectory across Kruger, Limpopo and Banhine National Parks

In Limpopo National Park, one of our 20 collared bulls called Merlin, out-did everyone. Besides occasionally visiting Kruger National Park, he suddenly moved across to Banhine National Park in May 2018 to return to Limpopo National Park in January 2019, travelling a total distance of 5544.77km within a year. He showed us potential elephant corridors between protected areas that are crucial to integrate into elephant management and species protection plans as poaching is still represents a high risk in Mozambique. The growing human population has fragmented many species habitat, and elephants have shown us that their incredible memory is key to know when and where it is safe and adapt accordingly to maximise their chances of survival.

Being aware of the great travellers elephants are should add a whole new dimension to elephant encounters in our landscape, as one should always wonder where they just came from, where they are heading and what next they may be up to.

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