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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