Identifying Elephants

Watching Elephants Identifying Elephants Elephant Watching

As well as radio collaring over 70 elephants, we have also identified and monitor more than 1,500 individual elephants.  By identifying specific elephants, we study and understand population dynamics and factors influencing elephant movements. 

We have a database recording each of these elephant’s individual characteristics –their sex, which breeding herd the cows belong to, any distinctive notches or marks in their ears, and the size and shape of their tusks. During our field research, we log and update the records for every individual elephant seen – noting their location, behaviour and which other elephants they are associating with.

Since 1996, 1500+ elephants in the Association of Private Nature Reserves (west of Kruger) and since 2008 a 100+ bull elephants, and the identikits of 11 breeding herds to the north of Kruger (Makuleke Concession) have been individually identified. This helps us understand how social behaviour drives movements, reproductive output, determines population dynamics and ensures long lasting social bonds – when times are rapidly changing for elephants due to escalating illegal killings.

The identity and movement of large tusked and potentially large tusked bulls is of particular importance as these individuals are becoming scarce in most elephant populations across Africa. Illegal killing of elephants for ivory have taken their toll both in the past and at present. Selection pressure for large tusks by trophy hunters may increase as the demands increase with the scarcity of their quarry. Scientists are concerned that a heritable trait, such as large tusks, could shift towards smaller tusked individuals over time if left unregulated. Hence large tusked and potentially large tusked elephants need to be protected from overexploitation, particularly as South Africa is home to some of Africa’s last remaining big tuskers. Our Identification study has identified a number of these magnificent giants and keeps tabs on their survival rates over time.

NAMED ELLIES WITH ID’S

Apollo (Prime Bull):
Apollo (Prime Bull):

It is not difficult to recognize this bull from far, as he is one of very few and officially protected big tuskers. Apart from his tusks, he also has very remarkable ear patterns that have never been seen in another elephant before. All along the edge of both ears the skin is torn in a distinct zick-zack way.

Addis Adiba (Female):

Addis Adiba (Female):

An elephant cow with a very unique tusk growth. From far can she be recognized, as her right tusk grows spiral and backwards towards her body. Apart from a hole in her left ear, the ear pattern is relatively smooth. If ear patterns don’t show any distinct markings, veins can also be used to match elephants.

Bigflap (Mature Bull):

Bigflap (Mature Bull):

Bigflap has a big triangle cut in his right ear and together with a small cut in his left ear, this ear pattern is unique to him. Tusks can change shape anytime and so should only serve as an additional ID feature. His tusks are not distinctive yet bur his ear patterns will stay distinctive and so help us to easily identify him in the field.