Two More GPS Collars in the Mix

While most people were still snuggled up under the covers on the blistery autumn morning of May 18th, Welgevonden’s Elephant Monitor was out on the Reserve in search of two particular elephant cows.

As part of an ongoing elephant monitoring programme, a number of key individuals were collared with VHF collars in 2006/7. This was done with the aim of detecting their movement and better understanding their behaviour.

More than 10 years later, these collars have eventually run out of battery and their technology become outdated. Current elephant monitor, Matthew Thorp, has been tasked with replacing these old collars with those of a new design that incorporate both GPS as well as VHF technology. Not only will this ensure the continued flow of movement data, but refine data analyses and ultimately improve decision making pertaining to the management of these placid pachyderms.

Recently, two separate conservation conscious groups (Timothy and Susan Miles from Site 34 and Guests from Site 47) sponsored the necessary funds to re-collar two elephant cows. These participants were able to interact with management staff, the veterinarian, as well as assist with the capture operation and collaring process.

The elephants in question were located browsing near Sekgwa Plains earlier that morning and the parties involved assembled on Andre’s Pan where they briefed on the procedure, and enjoyed a steaming cup of coffee while awaiting the arrival of wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Peter Caldwell.

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Upon arrival, Dr. Caldwell and Matthew took to the air where they located the first elephant, the matriarch from Herd 6, from the vantage point of the helicopter. Dr. Caldwell then went on to dart the elephant with carefully selected anesthetic drugs, rendering her unconscious for the purpose of the procedure.

Once unconscious, the remainder of the team rushed in on foot and ensured that the elephant was in a suitable resting position before proceeding with the collaring procedure. While a portion of the management team focused solely on removing and replacing the collar, the remainder went about monitoring the elephant’s vitals such as heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure etc. In addition, the vet administered a number of immune boosting drugs that would ensure the well-being of the individual post procedure.

After having secured the collar, the vet administered the reversal drugs and the team moved away from the large elephant, watching from a safe distance as the old girl manoeuvred herself back up onto her feet. With the stately matriarch now conscious and collared, Matthew and Dr. Caldwell took to the air once more to locate the second female.

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The second ranking female of Herd 1 was located nearby, and the overall procedure went as smoothly as the first. Although not the leader of the group, this individual remains in close proximity to the herd’s large bodied matriarch and does not leave the group for extended periods of time, making her a suitable candidate for collaring.

“When darting an elephant, we try and select a female that represents the general movement of the herd as accurately as possible. In this particular scenario, we chose the large, stately matriarch from Herd 6, and the second ranking female from Herd 1 – Matthew Thorp, Welgevonden Elephant Monitor.

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A big thank you to the sponsors of the procedure! Conservation would not be possible without your continued support.