November 2015 – A total of 10 elephants have been collared in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park as part of a study that aims to assess the impact social dominance has on elephant movements and habitat use. The study, which is being funded by the Wilderness Wildlife Trust, focuses on areas within Wilderness Safaris’ concessions in the Park, and has been initiated and carried out by Wilderness Safaris Environmental Officer for the Zambezi Region, Arnold Tshipa.
By tracking elephant movements, the study aims to gain a better understanding of the effect elephant dominance has on herds’ behaviour and the impact this has on ecosystems. This has particular relevance in areas such as Hwange, where there are high-density elephant populations as well as high demand for resources such as food and water.
“Recent studies have shown that the scarce distribution of water sources results in a high level of competition between elephant herds when choosing where to drink and forage. What remains unknown is the impact social influence or competition has on elephant movements – an important issue to investigate in ecosystems where elephant densities are increasing, such as Hwange”, says Tshipa.
The first eight elephant were fitted with satellite collars in 2014, while the final two were collared in late September 2015 – both females, one with a herd of five members and the other with a herd of seven.
“We have already noted some interesting findings”, says Tshipa. “Of the initial eight elephant collared, four have shown to be ‘movers’ with one going right down to the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe. The rest have moved only locally, within Wilderness Safaris’ concessions and the park boundary, going towards the communal areas”, he adds.
The next phase of the project is already underway and will include monitoring elephant interactions at waterholes. The study is just one of a number of Wilderness Safaris conservation projects underway in Hwange, ranging from water supply and anti-poaching programmes, to regular game counts and bird species monitoring.
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