Through education and collaboration, we share what we have learnt about elephants and the critical role they play in ensuring a healthy ecosystem.
We ensure the survival of elephants using science-based solutions.
We build relationships with communities living adjacent to protected areas. By showing compassion towards wildlife, we touch people’s hearts and minds and promote tolerance between people and elephants.
Identifying individual elephants
We have developed an identification database consisting of over 2,000 elephants by documenting their unique features.
We identify individual elephants by their sex, ear patterns (tears, notches, holes) and the shape of their tusks.
This ongoing long-term study, which began 25 years ago, helps us understand social bonds between elephants, and helps us to estimate population size based on the proportion of known individuals recorded over time.
Our studies play an important role in identifying elephants who engage in fence breaking or crop raiding activities.
Our elephant identification studies are the most continuous and long-term studies in southern Africa.
We have focused much of our attention on monitoring mature bulls as less is known about male elephants.
We record/document their social interactions, vocal communications and seek to understand the genetic relatedness between bulls.
In collaboration with Cambridge University, we are able to DNA test their dung while we measure their stress levels in collaboration with For Elephants.
Notably, our research also informs us of the importance of older bulls in elephant societies.
Elephants are a long-lived species and elephant ecology is complex. Our long-term studies give us insight into these complexities.
Over a quarter of a century, we have collared approximately 200 elephants.
Our collared elephants are our story tellers and intelligence agents.
They cross local boundaries and international borders, navigating their way through human dominated landscapes, showing us which areas are safe and unsafe for their survival.
Tracking elephants’ movements helps us to find ways to reduce human-elephant conflict. Knowing their movements informs reserve managers, conservationists and landowners about elephants seasonal activities and vegetation impact.
Our research prioritises male elephants, with particular emphasis on young trail-blazing explorers and the last remaining iconic, large tuskers.
Over two million location points help us to follow their incredible journeys across southern Africa.
Monitoring Trees & Vulture Nests
In South Africa, managers and landowners are concerned about the impact that elephants are having on large iconic trees.
Where there are too many artificial waterholes in the system, elephant impact on vegetation can become more pronounced, especially in the dry season when elephants are primarily browsers.
Elephant can have an aesthetic impact on large trees, and large tree-nesting birds can be affected by elephants. These effects are considered by some as a mild form of human-elephant conflict.
Since 2004, we have monitored 3000+ individual trees to understand elephant impact.
We investigate elephant impact on trees containing nesting sites of endangered birds. This includes 62 trees with nests of the southern ground hornbill and 226 nests with raptor / vulture nests.
We trial and assess different ways of reducing elephant impact which include:
- Wire netting wrapped around tree trunks
- Sharp stones/pyramids packed around the base of a tree trunk
- Hanging beehives in specific iconic tree species
As elephants are afraid of bees, they have been found to avoid these trees.
While beehives protect the trees from elephants the bees help to pollinate the trees and generate honey for sale, and as a result human-elephant conflict is reduced.
Although Elephants Alive is not a welfare charity, on occasion we are requested by local reserves and landowners to help with elephant rescues.
Private Game Reserves within the Greater Kruger Area are bordered by farmland.
During the dry season, elephants are more inclined to test the boundaries of protected areas, causing damage to fences and cropland. Without intervention, a Damage-Causing-Animal permit may be issued, resulting in the lethal removal of these elephants.
We have developed good working relationships with the farmers who work alongside us to relocate the elephants back to the reserves.
The operations are expensive as they involve vets, helicopters, cranes and flatbed trucks to transport the elephants.
We collar these risk takers and monitor their behaviour post translocation, and we apply behaviour modification methods if required.
This allows us to take pre-emptive action instead of the farmers resorting to reactive measures.
Snaring is becoming an increasing concern.
Often elephants are caught in indiscriminate bushmeat snares, resulting in serious wounds.
When an elephant is spotted with a snare, a vet is immediately called out to remove it.
Our local wildlife vet is pioneering the use of our organic honey to treat these wounds, as honey is well known for its antibacterial properties.
Elephants Alive has assisted in rescuing several orphaned elephant calves and transferring them to our local elephant rehabilitation centre, HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development).
At HERD, these orphans are introduced to older semi-habituated female elephants who have successfully adopted other orphaned elephant calves into their herd.
To aid in the successful rescue of elephant calves, we collect milk samples from cows during collaring operations. It is our hope that this will contribute towards developing a special milk formula for elephant calves who tend to be very sensitive to dietary changes.
Saving baby elephants touches hearts and minds worldwide and shows how one small elephant can make a difference and open a new world of conservation thinking.
Our Bee Project
Elephants are afraid of bees as they are vulnerable to bee stings on the sensitive areas of their face and trunk tip.
Guided by the success of using beehive fencing east Africa to protect farmers’ crops, Elephants Alive pioneered hanging beehives in iconic tree species.
This experiment has proven highly successful, as not only do elephants avoid these trees, but the bees help pollinate the trees with the added benefit of producing honey and beeswax.
Elephants Alive has developed a thriving market in “elephant friendly” honey and beeswax products(lip balm, honey-infused soap and wax wrap food covers.)These products have proved to be very popular.
Our Bees, Trees, Elephants & People programme has expanded, and we are now training the award-winning, all-female Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit to become beekeepers.
We share our Headquarters with the Black Mambas, and by training these women to become “bee-lievers” they can diversify their skillsets, improve food security, and earn extra income from honey and wax sales.
To date 100 beehives have been installed, and the Black Mambas are being trained in beekeeping, honey production, and horticulture
They are growing three different types of gardens–food crops to feed their families, medicinal plants to treat ailments when medical help is both expensive and not always accessible, and crops that are known to be unpalatable to elephants (chillies, lemon grass, coriander etc).
This initiative will be a template for Elephants Alive’s work in Southern Mozambique, where we are working with local communities to develop safe corridors for elephants moving between protected areas.
Fostering positive relationships with local communities and recruiting “bee-lievers” close to Protected Areas is key to improving tolerance so that living with elephants becomes a bonus rather than a burden.
Within Elephants Alive’s study area in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, lower densities of elephants are found in Parks in Mozambique adjacent to the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Corridors linking low and high-density populations will increase elephant habitat extensively. Corridors can help to address elephant management concerns about the local impact on the vegetation in areas where elephants are abundant. Subsistence farmers in these corridor areas are vulnerable to food insecurity due to crop-raiding elephants. Farmers often retaliate by killing elephants.
Elephants Alive has collared elephants both in-and-outside of Protected Areas in Mozambique. Our findings have shown that elephants prefer to move at night and more directionally to avoid conflict with humans.
Using the lessons learned from our work with the Black Mambas and through our beekeeping and horticultural programmes, local women in these corridor areas will be empowered to provide more effectively for their families. As communities develop alternative sustainable livelihoods, their incomes are supplemented and their economic resilience is increased.
Empowering women as community leaders plays an important part in promoting peaceful coexistence between elephants and people.