Jun 26, 2021

Elephant: Update from Chizarira National Park

ALERT and Parks staff collaring a bull elephant
ALERT and Parks staff collaring a bull elephant

The elephant research and monitoring project in Chizarira National Park is progressing well despite all of the negative things that seem to surround us all at this time.

On the 26th April 2021, the ALERT team led by Dr Monks was able to collar a large bull elephant.  The GPS collar unit beams a signal to a satellite giving updates of the animal’s position during the transmission time.  We have set the collar to transmit every 6 hours through the 24 hour period, i.e. 4 downloads a day.

Locating elephant in the Park was not an easy task.  The Park received exceptional rains this last season (November – April) and the grass was towering over our heads.  The National Park Ranger that was assigned to assist us asked me to stop the vehicle at one very thickly grassed area.  He then climbed a large tree nearby and excitedly gestured that there were elephant about 1 kilometer ahead.  We got the equipment for darting and collaring together and began walking through the tall grass in the direction that the elephants were in.  In some places the ground was marshy and we could not keep our footsteps quiet as we sloshed through mud and water.  Eventually we saw a big bull elephant ahead of us.  He was facing away from us and appeared to be sleeping on his feet.  The rest of the herd (about 25 animals in a breeding family group) was browsing about 150 meters in front the bull.  Dr Monks and a Parks Ranger crept up to within 30 meters of the bull and was able to dart him in the rump.   His head shot up and he looked around and then relaxed.  After about 3 minutes he walked towards the rest of the unconcerned elephants and slowly went down on his side.  The family group ran off when they saw the team and we were able to fit a collar and carry out some basic measurements before reviving the bull.  The reversal drug takes about 3 minutes to begin taking effect; first the ears start moving and the animal starts to ponderously get back on its feet and slowly move off.

The surrounding Community of subsistence farmers are keen to have more elephants collared so that we can warn them of potential crop raiders.  They will then take action (fires, noise, and dogs) to prevent the elephant destroying crops.  At a Rural District Council (RDC) workshop held at Binga on 6th and 7th April, to look at human-wildlife conflict and what mitigation measures could be used, ALERT was commended for the work that it was doing in support of communities.

Our elephant and lion research ties in with supporting the local communities and we are proud to be making a difference.  The attached map shows just how far out of the park and into the Communal Lands elephants move.  Thank you for your support.  We and the surrounding communities deeply appreciate it.   

TRacking the colared elephant
TRacking the colared elephant
May 13, 2021

Methods to mitigate human-wildlfe conflict

Lion up at bait tree
Lion up at bait tree

Helping Communities who live on the boundaries with Protected Areas with human-wildlife conflicts is a major aspect of ALERT’s Community program.  This report concentrates on the communities to the north, west and east of Chizarira National Park.  The Park is nearly 2,000km2 in extent and the Community we are actively involved with is the Mucheni Community.

 Living next to an unfenced National Park such as Chizarira makes the villagers vulnerabkle to wildlife incidents.  Our role is to mitigate these incidents as far as possible using none-lethal methods and forewarning villagers of possible raids by elephants, lions and spotted hyaena.

 As a means of forewarning Communities of a possible raid by elephants or lions we (together with the management of the park) are collaring lions and elephants in the park so that we are able to track their movements and identify hot spots that will need special attention.  As the animals move towards the villages, we are able to alert the villagers to take precautions such as building fires around fields and ensuring that the livestock is kept secure and guarded.

 During the period covered by this report we managed to collar a bull elephant and were able to warn villagers of a possible raid.  The bull was photographed using a trail camera on the edge of the Park which makes the project very real to us and the villagers.  

 In addition we attempted to collar a male lion that was a potential problem but we failed in this endeavor.  Two University attachment students joined us and we built a hide from which to dart the lion.  A big leopard came up to the meat we had hung from a tree and later a spotted hyaena came up and ripped the meat off the tree.  A lion was roaring nearby and we could tell by the volume of the roar that he was coming closer but he did not come up to that bait.  When we left, the lion came up to smell the tree that the bait was on and he was captured on a trail camera.

 We will continue our mitigation work this next period by putting in predator-proof holding pens for wildlife and will continue to attempt to collar more lions and elephants so that we can work out movements and potential hot spots that will need our attention.

Collared elephant neat villages
Collared elephant neat villages
Apr 19, 2021

Update on sponsor a community guardian

Community guardians are an important link between communities, wildlife and conservation.  Their function in communities surrounding a Protected Area includes collecting data on wildlife seen in the communal areas, reporting problem animals, keeping records of human-wildlife/livestock conflict, and to be the interface between community and the Protected Area Authorities.

To date the support response for this project has been poor probably due to the situation that we all face due to the Covid-10 pandemic.  We would like to thank our sponsors to date, for their sacrifice and commitment.  It has helped to make a difference in that although we are unable at this time to employ a full-time guardian, we have used the funds so far received to enable our researchers to step into the role that a guardian would take.

Zimbabwe had an exceptional season of rain after more than 4 years of drought.  The Villagers on the edges have eked out an existence by planting maize, ground nuts, sorghum and pumpkins that have had poor yields, heaping an extra burden on the community.  However this last season has seen good rains, rivers flowing and water holes filling up.  Villagers have been able to plant their crops and are due to reap an excellent reward for their efforts.

But as we left Chizarira a week ago we had reports from the District Councilor that there were reports of elephants in crops.  We brought up maps of the elephants we have so far collared and noted that one cow with a herd totaling 30 was in the Communal Land.  We have been able to warn villagers to carry out measures to stop the elephant going into the crops using age old methods namely fires around fields, lookouts, dogs, noise and light.  By so doing we are able to help the villagers protect the crops and also to prevent lethal retaliatory action by villagers who may be affected.

This project will continue since it is so important for the community and for the wildlife, but if funds do not come through we will need to look at other ways of fulfilling our commitment to the community. As mentioned our researchers are filling this role at this time and we are ensured that there is continuity in the support that we give villagers.  If and when sufficient finds are available, we will employ a fulltime guardian from within the villagers who knows the area and is respected by the community.

Thank you for your continued support during this difficult time.  Stay safe!

 
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