Tracking Giants

We track elephant movements using advanced GPS and GMS technology in order to understand their movements in relation to habitat use, safety, the social landscape and past management practices.

Since 1998, we have been collaring elephants in the Kruger National Park and in the Association of Private Nature Reserves, adjacent to Kruger, in South Africa – as well as in the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.

This long term tracking study has resulted in a critical, wide landscape understanding of elephant movements in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, (spanning South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe), to inform conservation management of one of southern Africa’s largest and most important elephant populations.

So far, we have collared 72 elephants (in 113 collaring operations), in order to

  • define cross-border movements throughout the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park,
  • understand how elephants move in relation to stresses such as hunting, human infrastructure and poaching,
  • shed light on how physical barriers (fences, roads, railways) and environmental factors (rivers, artificial water supplies and geological substrate) influence elephant movements,
  • inform managers, conservation bodies and landowners on seasonal movement, sustainability of hunting, effects on vegetation where elephants and man co-exist – and sadly now identifying poaching hotspots to inform deployment of anti-poaching patrols.
  • To further our understanding of how elephant mortality rates differ between southern and east African range use states in view of the escalating illegal trade in ivory. 
  • To understand the movements and social importance of the remaining big tusked bulls within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

This 20 year study in the making has resulted in a landscape wide understanding of elephant movements to inform long term conservation planning.  Thanks to the data from the radio collars, we have shown that since the fences are down that used to isolate the Kruger National Park, elephants are moving back into their former range, including private ranches to the west, Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe to the North, and the Limpopo National Park to the East in Mozambique.  This knowledge has been critical to allowing SANParks more flexibility in their elephant population management programme which formerly depended on culling as the only means of population control. Now it is accepted that elephants can disperse into adjacent areas, and culling is not needed for the immediate future.